Truthout Stories Thu, 29 Jan 2015 03:16:15 -0500 en-gb As 18 Die on Anniversary of Revolution, Egypt Intensifies Crackdown on Activists, Journalists

At least 18 protesters have been killed as they marked the anniversary of the 2011 uprising in Egypt that toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak, in the bloodiest demonstrations since General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power. A viral video also shows Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, a leading member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, being shot dead Saturday at a protest near Tahrir Square. "Like all social change, the fight for democracy in Egypt and across the region is going to continue," says Karim Amer, producer of "The Square," which documented the Egyptian revolution of 2011 from its roots in Tahrir Square and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2014. "What keeps us optimistic is the same critical mass of young people you saw in 'The Square' ... who are continuing to stand up." We also speak with film's director, Jehane Noujaim, about Sanaa El Seif, an assistant producer who worked on "The Square" and is now in prison in Egypt.

Please check back later for full transcript.

News Wed, 28 Jan 2015 12:40:10 -0500
Dumpsta Diva: Take the Plunge!

Every week, Truthout posts a short video for middle school aged kids – and everyone else - about climate change and its effects. "The Green Ninja," a character created by a climate scientist and his team, provides an entertaining and educational way to help children grasp the intricacies of climate change and learn what they can personally do to become involved in fighting it. See additional details about the series or head straight to this week's episode "Dumpster Diver."

In this episode, outback explorer Mick "Dumpsta-Diva" Bliss takes us on a journey inside of a dumpster to look at some of the "critters" that live there. Some of these creatures do not belong in a dump. Plant/produce waste, for example, should be composted rather than thrown away. Composting is an amazing thing that not many people know about. By putting a banana peel into a compost bin, it allows the banana peel to rot, which will release all of the contained nutrients into the compost.

Some critters that are not so easily disposed of end up in the dump, too. Reusable materials such as metals (which make up many household objects such as batteries) cannot be used effectively if they are thrown in a dump. Metal does not decompose. Therefore, throwing it in a dump means it will be there for a very long time. This is why we recycle reusable materials such as metal, plastics, and paper products. Recycling these things can reduce the use of our limited resources on Earth, reduce carbon footprint, and save you money!

News Wed, 28 Jan 2015 11:59:15 -0500
"The Power of the People": "Selma" Director Ava DuVernay on Fight for Civil Rights, Voting Equality

See also: "Selma": A Beautifully Shot Film Shows How Change Really Happens

In our extended interview with "Selma" director Ava DuVernay, we broadcast excerpts from her Oscar-nominated film, which highlights both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s leadership in Selma, as well as the grassroots civil rights movement's role in pushing President Lyndon Johnson to pass the Voting Rights Act, and Coretta Scott King's secret meeting with Malcolm X while King was in jail. DuVernay also explains her approach to showing police and vigilante aggression used against activists in the movement for civil and voting rights. "There is so much violence in this era that we're talking about, but I wanted the violence to be something that was reverential to the lives lost ... these black lives that mattered," DuVernay says.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. We're broadcasting from Park City, Utah, from the Sundance Film Festival. We're broadcasting from Park City TV. Today we spend the hour with Ava DuVernay, director of Selma. The film begins with the death of four young girls: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins. They died on September 15, 1963, killed when the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The bombing came less than a month after the March on Washington. I asked Ava DuVernay why she chose to begin Selma with this devastating attack.

AVA DUVERNAY: Well, for me, our approach to violence in the film was, you know, one that we considered very carefully. I'm an independent filmmaker, so this was my first film. My last film was $200,000; this is a $20 million film. And there's so much violence in this era that we're talking about, but I wanted the violence to be something that was very reverential and respectful to the life lost. And so, in trying to figure out how we brought people into the story and how we established a reverence for these black lives that mattered at that time, that we approached it in a way that got you right at the top. And the four little girls really was the catalyst for so much of what happened in Selma, that very visceral shaking of the leaders of the civil rights movement to do something off the beaten path, out of the box, was the push toward Selma. So it was a trigger. But then also, just in the way that we designed those shots, and with real intention to get you stuck in your seat and make you watch this thing, in a way that we don't really watch historical dramas, kind of at a distance, you know, when we see these things, it's got—

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we meet these little girls talking—

AVA DUVERNAY: We meet the—you hear them speaking. You have respect for their life. You know that they should—there should have been more conversations like that and more growth and a womanhood and all that follows. And so, to have that snuffed out was, you know, a salute to them, but also just to really invite people to be with us in the story, be with them. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And then you take us on the journey to Selma. Dr. King, hearing from Ralph Abernathy and Diane Nash—tell us who Diane Nash was, and Ralph Abernathy.

AVA DUVERNAY: Oh, Diane Nash deserves her own film. Diane Nash is a freedom fighter who is still alive and kicking. She was one of the leaders of the desegregation of Nashville, basically. She was a student at Fisk University who was one of the founding members of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. And she, along with C.T. Vivian and John Lewis and Jim Bevel, did amazing work around the Freedom Rides. Stanley Nelson, a beautiful documentarian, one of our best, did a gorgeous documentary about the Freedom Rides, as most of your viewers will know. And then, anyway, so she became aligned from SNCC to the SCLC and started to work with King very closely. But it was really her idea, her and James Bevel's idea, to really launch a full-scale voting rights campaign in Selma on the invitation of Amelia Boynton.

AMY GOODMAN: So they're driving in a car for the first time to Selma.

AVA DUVERNAY: Yeah, in the scene, Ralph Abernathy, Diane Nash, Andrew Young and James Orange are driving with Dr. King into Selma, and they're trying to convince King this is the place we need to be.

AMY GOODMAN: And you hear Nash, and you hear Abernathy.

AVA DUVERNAY: That's right.

RALPH ABERNATHY: [played by Colman Domingo] Oh, my lord. What you got us into, woman? We've got 128 miles to come to our senses, gentlemen.

DIANE NASH: [played by Tessa Thompson] Hush. This here's the place we need to be. This right here is the next great battle.

RALPH ABERNATHY: I can only imagine. Decent-looking place to die, though.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Ralph Abernathy and Diane Nash in the film Selma. Of course, those were the figures who are portrayed, well, by actors. Colman Domingo played Abernathy, and Diane Nash was played by Tessa Thompson.

AVA DUVERNAY: Tessa Thompson, fantastic.

AMY GOODMAN: So they're going to Selma, and King is right in there, and he's going. So they get to Selma. And talk about the violence that they face and the challenges there.

AVA DUVERNAY: Yeah, well, Dr. King, you know, upon arriving in Selma, was immediately assaulted by members of the White Citizens' Council and Hotel Albert. We show that incident. Also very, very early in the film you see encounters at the Dallas County Courthouse. Very famously, C.T. Vivian, you know, shouted down and kind of preached to Jim Clark about—

AMY GOODMAN: Jim Clark is the sheriff of Selma.

AVA DUVERNAY: Jim Clark was the sheriff in Selma—about, you know, the protesters' rights to be there. And so, we're trying to show the wall of aggression that they were up against as they went in. I mean, at that point, the thing that's so fascinating about this time in history for me is, King was already a national figure. He had already won the Nobel. He had already given "I Have a Dream." He could have done anything. He really could have. He had been invited to work in the administration in some way, invited to write books, lecture. He could have just said, "I hand this off to someone else." But he got right back in there to Selma. And that's what was so fascinating about this era to me. It's not a man becoming a leader. You're watching someone lead and what that takes. It takes people who want to be led, and it takes comrades who are supporting it.

AMY GOODMAN: And you talk about the adversity outside. What about the adversity inside? You have this amazing clip, that you could set up for us, when he's debating with, well, now the congressman, John Lewis, but a very young guy.

AVA DUVERNAY: Yes, yes. No, we have a scene in the film—you know, it's important to really recognize that, you know, the civil rights movement and the people who participated were not a monolith in their thought about—they weren't monolithic in their thought about how to achieve it. With as many people as there were fighting for freedom, there were that many ideas about how to do it and how to approach it. And so, I thought it was so important to just show that everyone was not in lockstep. You had a lot of very smart people with a lot of smart ideas, and they had to be synthesized into one action. But ultimately, I was just fascinated by the process, and that's what that—this scene shows.

AMY GOODMAN: So you have here James Forman—


AMY GOODMAN: —John Lewis, and you have King asking them to describe Selma Sheriff Jim Clark, as Ralph Abernathy looks on.


REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: [played by David Oyelowo] John, James, answer me one question. I've been told the sheriff in this town isn't like Laurie Pritchett in Albany. He's a big, ignorant bully, like Bull Connor in Birmingham. Well, you tell me. You know Selma. You know Sheriff Jim Clark. Is he Laurie Pritchett, or is he Bull Connor?

JOHN LEWIS: [played by Stephan James] He's Bull Connor.

RALPH ABERNATHY: [played by Colman Domingo] Bingo!


AMY GOODMAN: And so, talk about the decision that was made at that point, what direction they would take, what King decides and what SNCC decides.

AVA DUVERNAY: They decide to move forward in, you know, wide-scale protests in Selma. We show one march on the courthouse, but there were several marches on the courthouse. Teachers marched, which was huge. Children marched, which was massive. You know, the clergy marched. But it was all really focused only on the black community. You know, it was very insulated within the black community at that time. Later, as Jimmie Lee Jackson is killed, who was a local Marion, Alabama, native who was doing these local marches, did they—did that murder trigger an idea about national mobilization. And that's where Bloody Sunday and Turnaround Tuesday come into play, to not just march on the courthouse, but to march to Montgomery from Selma.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the fact this isn't just one march, when people hear Selma to Montgomery.

AVA DUVERNAY: Right. Most people think it's just one.


AVA DUVERNAY: Most people don't—most people don't know. Someone said to me at a screening, "Thank you so much." And I said, "Oh, gosh, thank you." And she said, "I thought Oprah was playing a character named Selma. I didn't even know what this"—I was like, "Well, goodness."

AMY GOODMAN: Oprah is in it, right?

AVA DUVERNAY: Oprah is in it, but she is not a woman named Selma.

AMY GOODMAN: And she's not—and Selma is not a woman's name.

AVA DUVERNAY: Yeah, that's correct. But yeah, no, it's—these marches, yeah, there were three attempts to do it. The first two attempts were unprotected by the federal government. They were opposed by the state government. Local government, local law enforcement were against them and beating them and out to get them. So, at all levels, there was no protection. To think about walking out—I mean, we march now, and we raise our voices, and we know that, you know, as a mass, we will not be harmed. But, you know, walking out there knowing that the local sheriff is out for you, he has posse men, that the governor has ordered state troopers to physically harm you, and that the federal government and the president have not sent troops to protect you, have not ordered protection, and they did that twice, is astounding and something that we shouldn't forget.

AMY GOODMAN: John Lewis sits in Congress today, had his head bashed in Bloody Sunday.

AVA DUVERNAY: That's right. That's right. That's right. He was the leader of that march. He was on the front line of that march. So when I see John Lewis now, you know—

AMY GOODMAN: Now, King wasn't there at that time.

AVA DUVERNAY: He wasn't there at Bloody Sunday, no.

AMY GOODMAN: So let's go to the final clip from Selma, where Dr. King is calling all people of conscience to come now to Selma after that first march.

REPORTER: Dr. King. Good morning, Doctor. Can we get a statement, please?


REPORTER: Morning.

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: While rageful violence continues toward the unarmed people of Selma, while they are assaulted with tear gas and batons like an enemy in a war, no citizen of this country can call themselves blameless, for we all bear a responsibility for our fellow man. I am appealing to men and women of God and goodwill everywhere, white, black and otherwise, if you believe all are created equal, come to Selma. Join us. Join our march against injustice and inhumanity. We need you to stand with us.

AMY GOODMAN: That was a clip from the Academy Award-nominated Selma. We're talking to the director, Ava DuVernay. We're here in Sundance. Ava, that moment where he calls on all good people to come to Selma, talk about what happened then.

AVA DUVERNAY: I love that moment, because that was the blossoming, in my mind. That was the moment where there was an open invitation to people of all faiths, colors, classes, cultures to join the fight. I mean, if you believe in justice and dignity, come stand with us, you know. And that call is so, so moving, so emotional.

AMY GOODMAN: Were those King's very words?

AVA DUVERNAY: No. We cannot use Dr. King's very words. I had to approximate, because another filmmaker has the rights to his exact words.

AMY GOODMAN: I don't understand.

AVA DUVERNAY: Well, King was a private individual. He was a private citizen. And his public statements, most of them are [copyrighted]. And so the estate has licensed those words to another filmmaker that's not me. So—

AMY GOODMAN: Has that filmmaker made a film?

AVA DUVERNAY: No, but he's going to be making a film, and it's going to be beautiful, I am sure.

AMY GOODMAN: So you can't quote King at all?

AVA DUVERNAY: No, no, it's domain of his estate, yeah. So then the question was: Do you not tell the story, or do you untether yourself from the words and try to get underneath what he meant, what the ideas were? And so, I just really tried to listen very closely to everything he was saying. I rewrote those speeches. Everything you hear him say was just, you know, trying to approximate what he actually said, because the ideas are so bold, they're so fresh, they're so—they're so outstanding, that it felt wrong to let them be locked away without trying to attempt them.

AMY GOODMAN: Ava DuVernay, director of the Oscar-nominated film Selma. Coming up in our last segment, we speak with her about the grassroots civil rights movement's role in pushing President Johnson to pass the Voting Rights Act. We also learn about Coretta Scott King's secret meeting with Malcolm X while Dr. King was in jail. And we talk with Ava DuVernay about her newly revealed plans for her next film. That's all coming up on Democracy Now! Stay with us.

News Wed, 28 Jan 2015 11:25:32 -0500
FBI: Give Me Back My Email to WikiLeaks

Given how government spying on activists was something that we used to be very concerned about, imagine how startled I was to read in the Guardian that the FBI probably has my email correspondence with WikiLeaks. Thanks to Edward Snowden we know that the NSA has been trying to vacuum up everything. But it's a different thing to read that the FBI has your stuff specifically.

Rally and March in Washington DC Against Mass Surveillance, October 26, 2013. (Photo: Susan Melkisethian)Rally and March in Washington DC Against Mass Surveillance, October 26, 2013. (Photo: Susan Melkisethian)

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Back in the solidarity movements of the 1980s, activists were encouraged to apply for our FBI files under the Freedom of Information Act.

Nobody expected the FBI to tell the truth about what it had. It was intended as a protest of the FBI's spying on activists.

I applied. Eventually, I got back a letter from the FBI, saying: "We have no records responsive to your request." Everybody said, that doesn't mean anything, the FBI lies.

Some time after that, there was a push to get people to join the class action lawsuit against the ADL, which was charged with spying on peace activists and illegally using police information to do so. So I applied to join the class. I didn't expect anything to happen. But then much later I got a letter in the mail from a court somewhere, saying that pursuant to the settlement of the lawsuit, the ADL had agreed to purge information about me from its records. One of the records was a photograph of the license plate on my car. That's odd, I thought.

Given how government spying on activists was something that we used to be very concerned about, imagine how startled I was to read in the Guardian that the FBI probably has my email correspondence with WikiLeaks. Thanks to Edward Snowden we know that the NSA has been trying to vacuum up everything. But it's a different thing to read that the FBI has your stuff specifically.

Google took almost three years to disclose to WikiLeaks it had handed over emails belonging to three of its staffers to the U.S. government under a secret search warrant, the Guardian reported. The subjects of the warrants were WikiLeaks investigations editor Sarah Harrison, WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson, and WikiLeaks senior editor Joseph Farrell.

The court orders cast a data net so wide as to ensnare virtually all digital communications originating from or sent to the three, the Guardian said. Google was told to hand over the contents of all their emails, including those sent and received.

I have communicated by email with all three of the WikiLeaks staffers named in the Guardian article over a period of years using my Gmail account. Therefore, based on the Guardian report, I think that Google may have supplied the FBI with my email correspondence with the three WikiLeaks staffers.

Alexander Abdo of the American Civil Liberties Union said the warrants were "shockingly broad" in their catch-all wording. "This is basically 'Hand over anything you've got on this person'," he said. "That's troubling as it's hard to distinguish what WikiLeaks did in its disclosures from what major newspapers do every single day in speaking to government officials and publishing still-secret information."

I asked some lawyers if I have any meaningful basis for suit, action, or complaint in any venue. Probably not, they said. You'd be better off to launch a public campaign to raise awareness.

OK, I said. So here's my public campaign to raise awareness. I'm publicly demanding that the FBI return my email and destroy all copies in its possession. You can support my campaign here.

Opinion Wed, 28 Jan 2015 11:01:15 -0500
The Kochs Will Spend Nearly $1 Billion on the 2016 Elections, but Deny It

The political network organized by Charles and David Koch plans to spend an incredible $889 million to capture the White House in 2016 and deepen the Koch party's bench in Congress. But that's not what they'll tell federal regulators.

If history is a guide, the Koch network will claim that much of the nearly $1 billion it will funnel through an array of nonprofit groups is not about elections at all. Instead, the Koch groups will claim that their efforts to elect politicians who will lower capital gains taxes and overturn environmental regulations is really all about "social welfare." 

That's what happened during the last presidential cycle.

The Kochs' main political advocacy arm, Americans for Prosperity, spent $122 million in 2012--more than it had spent in its previous eight years of existence combined--but told the IRS that the vast majority of its spending had nothing to do with elections. AFP reported spending less than a quarter of its overall expenditures on electoral intervention, around $33.5 million, about the same amount that it reported in spending to the Federal Elections Commission. 

Another group in the Koch network, the 60 Plus Association, spent around $18 million in the 2012 election year, but told the IRS that only $35,000 of that total had anything to do with electoral politics. Similarly, American Commitment spent $11.5 million in 2012, but told the IRS it spent only $1.86 million on elections. Wisconsin Club for Growth told the IRS that it spent $0 on elections in 2011 and 2012, despite spending $9.1 million on Wisconsin's recall elections and working closely with Scott Walker's campaign; the Center for Media and Democracy filed a complaint against the group last year.

Most of the groups in the ever-expanding Koch universe are nonprofits organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, whose primary activity is supposed to be "social welfare" rather than electoral politics. In turn, these nonprofits are allowed to keep their donors secret.

The Koch nonprofits assert that any ads or activities that don't expressly tell viewers how to vote should count as "social welfare" rather than electoral intervention, a claim that in many cases would appear to be contradicted by IRS guidance and court decisions.

But a recent Center for Public Integrity analysis found that the IRS, hobbled by budget cuts and under intense political pressure, almost never audits nonprofits engaged in excessive political activity.

Politically active nonprofits are simply “not afraid of the IRS or anybody else on this matter,” Paul Streckfus, a former exempt organizations division employee, told CPI. “Anything goes as far as spending.”

The IRS proposed new rules for nonprofit political activity in late 2013, but pulled the guidelines amidst criticism that the proposal was both over- and under-inclusive. Groups like the Bright Lines Project have been urging the IRS to go back to the drawing board, but it is very unlikely that any new guidelines will be in place before the 2016 elections.

Which means that the Kochs will have free reign in 2016 not only to pour astonishing amounts of money into US elections, but--in contrast with traditional parties--to do so in secret, without disclosing the financial interests behind the spending. 

The $1 billion the Koch network plans to spend in 2016 should dispel any doubts that the Kochs are operating their own secretly-funded shadow political party.

The level of resources that the Kochs and their donor-allies can muster can determine political futures. (Just ask Joni Ernst.) The "Koch primary" is now a vital part of the GOP presidential race, where Oval Office hopefuls like Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio drop everything to attend Koch confabs. For Republican presidential contenders, appealing to the handful of wealthy donors in the Koch network is at least as important as building support among voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

And as the Kochs continue to ramp up their political spending, it will only further solidify the network's role as a dominant (and shadowy) force in US elections.

News Wed, 28 Jan 2015 10:41:36 -0500
Syriza's Victory: Hold the Champagne

Syriza's electoral victory on January 25 has been viewed as a historic turning point for Greece and Europe. This analysis suggests another perspective on what the Greek electoral results really tell us, and attempts to temper some of the hype following Syriza's victory.

(Photo: bluto blutarski)(Photo: bluto blutarski)

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It was October 1981 when "hope" and "change" first filled the air in Greece. The brash young socialist leader of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), Andreas Papandreou, was about to earn a historic electoral victory. His rhetoric was radical, calling for a Greek departure from the European Union and NATO. This rhetoric elevated Papandreou to achieve an electoral rout of the conservatives. His victory was marked as one of the "left," with Time featuring Papandreou on its cover accompanied by the headline "Greece Swings Left." However, in the years that followed, most of the radical promises were broken, and Greece remained in the EU and NATO.

Flash forward to January 25, 2015, the day that young Alexis Tsipras and the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) emerged victorious in the Greek parliamentary elections. Across Greece, Europe, and the world, celebrations erupted. Global media coverage was hyperbolic, proclaiming the historic victory of the Greek left, the first "leftist" victory in modern Greek history (apparently 1981 is forgotten) and the Greek people's "slap in the face" of austerity. Tsipras has been compared to Che Guevara and Uruguay's "president of the poor" José Mujica.

The reality is that Syriza is "radical leftist" in name only. Its rhetoric has tempered considerably in recent years, and has continued to moderate in the aftermath of the January 25 elections. Emerging victorious with 36.34 percent of the vote and 149 seats in parliament (including the 50-seat "bonus" awarded to the victor), Syriza gained almost 10 percentage points compared to the June 2012 elections, winning most regions throughout Greece and particularly those that had once supported Pasok. Nevertheless, 149 seats are not enough for a parliamentary majority, and Syriza, on January 26, agreed to form a coalition with the Independent Greeks, a populist-right party, which has maintained a steady anti-austerity rhetoric since its formation in early 2012, and which was not projected to enter parliament according to pre-election polls, but which ended up attracting 4.75 percent of the vote - a decrease from the 7.51 percent they won in June 2012, but enough to win 13 seats in parliament and finish ahead of Pasok. Interestingly, Syriza's decision to form a coalition government with the Independent Greeks was met with derision by some leftists, stemming from fears also shared by many immigrants in Greece that the party is far-right and anti-immigrant, despite the fact that such characterizations were not typically made of the party by Syriza members prior to the elections, and despite the fact that Syriza has absorbed former Independent Greeks' MPs such as Rachel Makri, who was elected into parliament on January 25, without any apparent complaints from Syriza's left wing.

New Democracy, the outgoing majority coalition partner, attained 27.81 percent of the vote, declining less than 2 percent from its performance in June 2012, while much of its "old guard," from outgoing Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, to the far-right Sofia Voultepsi, Adonis Georgiadis and Makis Voridis, once again won parliamentary seats. On the other hand, Pasok declined almost 8 percentage points, while former prime minister and Pasok breakaway George Papandreou's new party, the Movement of Democrats and Socialists, failed to enter parliament, earning an underwhelming 2.46 percent.

The far-right Golden Dawn's third-place finish (6.28 percent) garnered justifiable outrage, but it nevertheless represents a decline compared to its 6.92 percent finish in June 2012. The communist party (KKE), which is renowned for its reactionary stance and refusal to collaborate with other left-wing forces, gained almost 1 percent compared to its June 2012 finish, earning 5.47 percent, but predictably refusing to discuss participation in a possible coalition with Syriza. The River, a party founded by celebrity journalist Stavros Theodorakis with no clear political platform but with the support of some of Greece's major media barons (as evidenced by the excessive airtime it enjoyed on Greek television), was laughably appointed "kingmaker" by the foreign press prior to the elections (in a demonstration of their lack of understanding of Greek politics), but ended up in fourth place with 6 percent.

Notably, one of the strongest finishes of the election came from the minor Centrist's Union party, which earned almost 2 percent of the vote in its best ever finish, despite being active in the Greek political scene for over two decades. Other former governing coalition partners, such as the Democratic Left (DIMAR) and the right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) were at or below 1 percent, having been punished by the electorate for their previous support for austerity. Numerous other smaller parties, many of which maintain an anti-EU and anti-euro platform, did not participate, having correctly calculated that the elections would be polarized and that the vote would largely be split between the two top parties, whose voters would, in large part, each seek to keep the other out.

The wildly inaccurate results of opinion surveys leading up to the elections, and the equally inaccurate results of the exit polls conducted on the day of the elections, are also notable. Prior to January 25, most polls showed Syriza ahead of New Democracy by merely 2 to 3 percent, showed The River hovering at around 8 percent, Golden Dawn at 4 to 5 percent, the Movement of Democrats and Socialists at 3 percent (enough to enter parliament), and the Independent Greeks at 1.5 to 2 percent (and shut out of parliament). In turn, the January 25 exit polls suddenly predicted a Syriza victory by 12 percent, a tie between Golden Dawn and The River, a Pasok finish ahead of the Independent Greeks, and a likely parliamentary presence for the Movement of Democrats and Socialists. In all cases, the polls fell woefully short, and indicated once again that they are likely to be motivated more by partisan interests and a desire to manipulate popular opinion, rather than a dedication to accuracy.

Perhaps the most significant, yet least talked-about, result of the elections was the high abstention rate, as 36.13 percent of registered voters (representing 3.5 million people, over 1 million more than those who voted for Syriza) didn't participate. The low turnout indicates that a large segment of the population was not swayed by Syriza's rhetoric of "hope and change," nor by the previous government's absurd talk of an economic "success story." And even if one accounts for the many Greeks who have migrated and live abroad, 3.5 million abstentions represents an excessive number that should be disconcerting for all those involved in Greece's political landscape.

What should be equally disconcerting, however, is Syriza's marked move away from the left. Tsipras, in his victory speech on the evening of January 25, made numerous references to the future of Europe, but far fewer references to the future of Greece. He also said Syriza would follow EU directives, which do not permit member states to maintain a deficit that surpasses 3 percent of GDP. With a shrunken economy that has lost over 25 percent of GDP during the crisis, limiting spending invariably can only mean one thing: further austerity. This calls into question all of Syriza's promises to roll back the austerity measures and cuts of the past few years, including restoration of the monthly minimum wage to 751 euros, an amount which was considered paltry at the time and led to the creation of the so-called "G700," or "700 euro generation" of overeducated, underemployed youth. Syriza's new cabinet, which was announced on January 27, features ministers who were previously members of Pasok, as well as economist Yanis Varoufakis as finance minister, who recently stated that the possibility of a "Grexit" (or Greek exit from the eurozone, perhaps Greece's strongest negotiating weapon) will not even be raised as a negotiating tactic, and whose recent book was presented in Athens by a right-wing television personality who once suggested that New Democracy should not discount the possibility of co-governing with a "serious" Golden Dawn.

Syriza's flip-flopping has not stopped there: Manolis Glezos, a member of the European Parliament with Syriza, stated prior to the elections that if Syriza was elected on the basis of the 50-seat bonus, the party would call new elections. After the fact, Giannis Dragasakis, who was named vice president of the new government, distanced Syriza from such statements. Economist Costas Lapavitsas, who until recently had been a strong proponent of a "Grexit" and who had recently presented his "radical economic proposal" for Greece, was elected to parliament with Syriza and stated recently that the party would follow a "moderate Keynesian" economic strategy. Constitutional lawyer Giorgos Katrougalos, who participated in the Greek "Indignants" movement in 2011 and who, at the time, spoke of the formation of a committee to audit Greece's debt, recently distanced himself from such a possibility, as has Syriza. Notably, according to one economist's analysis, Greece's debt, if it was calculated by accepted International Public Sector Accounting Standards used by many other countries, would amount to 18 percent of GDP, instead of its current figure of 175 percent. This issue could be examined as part of an audit of Greece's debt, but Syriza now rejects the possibility of conducting such an audit.

Perhaps most egregiously, Syriza, which is now tasked with nominating a candidate for the ceremonial post of president of the Hellenic Republic, is said to be considering "compromise" candidates from the conservative right, including former Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis and former Defense Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos. This despite the fact that, according to the Greek Constitution, Syriza needs only 151 votes in the second round of voting, or a simply majority of those present in a third and final parliamentary vote, and therefore has no reason to compromise.

Meanwhile, there has been little or no talk of reversing privatizations; reforming the judicial system; restoring specific labor rights that have been stripped away; lobbying the EU to reform the failed Dublin II migration policy, which has heavily burdened Greece, including Germany's unpaid war debts and reparations to Greece in a revised national budget (a former Syriza promise); reforming Greece's electoral system and keeping its promise to eliminate the 50-seat bonus and restore a system of proportional representation; reforming Greece's suffering educational system; and no clear position on the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) or on the approval of GMO crops; no talk of bank nationalizations, and certainly no talk of a Greek exit from the eurozone. Moreover, Syriza and many of its supporters have now adopted the fearmongering rhetoric of the outgoing government, regarding the "dire" consequences that would follow if Greece enforced a unilateral stoppage of payments or departed from the eurozone.

What is clear is that Syriza's government is not on strong footing. Many of its votes were earned from voters who simply were sick of the status quo and who sought to punish the two political parties that had ruled Greece for the past 40 years, but who are not necessarily optimistic that Syriza will keep its promises. Failure to elect a president would lead to the collapse of the government, as might also be the case if Syriza succumbs to troika pressure or reneges on many of its promises. Already, leading European figures, including the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz (who recently stated that "we have to stick to agreements made to stabilize Greece and the EU"), Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem (who stated that "there is very little support for a write-off"), and the head of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker (who said recently that Greece should not expect a debt reduction), are expected in Athens this week. The pressure from the troika will be intense. But public pressure is also likely to be intense. After all, Barack Obama and Francois Hollande also promised "hope and change" and their electoral victories also led to widespread celebrations, as did Andreas Papandreou's in 1981. In all three cases, their "radical" rhetoric was quickly forgotten. Will Syriza follow along the same path?

News Wed, 28 Jan 2015 10:41:23 -0500
"Selma": A Beautifully Shot Film Shows How Change Really Happens

See also: "The Power of the People": "Selma" Director Ava DuVernay on Fight for Civil Rights, Voting Equality

I’ll admit that Selma caught me off guard. My first thought, seeing its star, David Oyelowo, adjust his tie in the opening scene, was “That’s Dr. King.” Few movies have brought Martin Luther King Jr. to the silver screen, Ali (2001) and The Butler (2013) being the most recent exceptions. A handful of TV films and miniseries have featured depictions of King, but his life and work have seldom, if ever, received the delicate, human nuance that director Ava DuVernay and Oyelowo offer.

It’s with this care that Selma offers a valuable and all-too-rare history lesson in how social movements both work and win.

It’s also rare to see a film explore the complex inner workings of popular movements from the perspective of those driving them. Watching the story unfold, I realized how totally bizarre it is that reviewers on the website Rotten Tomatoes mention Selma and The Help (2011) in the same breath. Contrary to The Help’s tagline, transformative change does not “begin with a whisper” or—historically—with a white woman bonding with her black maid.

Yes, both stories are based in the South of the 1960s and illustrate racism, but Selma is a film about skilled organizers building a movement; if you’re really hungry for a comparison, check out Gandhi (1982), Che (2008), Milk (2008) and TV movies Freedom Song (2000) and Iron Jawed Angels (2004).

Selma, though, stands in a category all its own; historian Peniel E. Joseph rightfully calls it “the most complex and intellectually satisfying civil rights movie ever made.” Neither a “great man” history of King (or, thankfully, of President Lyndon B. Johnson) nor an outsized tale about forgotten underdogs, Selma—as much as any movie might hope to—captures both King’s greatness as a leader and the dedicated team of men and, refreshingly, women who made the movement and its considerable victories possible.

The film drops viewers into a relatively late stage in the civil rights movement, 10 years after the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. By this time, King was a celebrity; Selma’s first scene shows him receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. And his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or SCLC, was a well-oiled machine, driving confidently into Selma to make good on his promise of forcing then-President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) into the voting rights debate. In many states throughout the South, all citizens were constitutionally (read: technically) guaranteed the right to vote. However, poll taxes and other bureaucratic hurdles made it virtually impossible for the vast majority of African Americans to do so.

DuVernay follows King—along with movement heavyweights Andrew Young, John Lewis, Ralph Abernathy, and more—through their three-month tenure in Selma, Alabama, where just 1 percent of blacks were registered to vote despite making up more than 50 percent of the population.

The film tracks the campaign’s first moves and confrontation with Sheriff Jim Clark (Stan Houston), as hundreds of black Selma residents demand entry into the county’s voter registration office, which was open just twice a month.

Regular protests continue for weeks, with Selma police and white mobs growing increasingly violent toward protesters. Two of them, Boston preacher James Reeb and teenager Jimmie Lee Jackson, are killed. The drama of both the movie and the actual campaign climaxes on “Bloody Sunday,” the violent showdown between state troopers and nonviolent protesters, who, broadcast live on national television, brought the public’s attention to the issue of voting rights. The film ends as Johnson reluctantly champions the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before Congress and the American public in a live, televised address.

As alluded to in the film, the success of King and the SCLC in Selma was built on the foundation laid by local activists and another civil rights group, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (or SNCC, usually pronounced “snick”). Although the SCLC was made up primarily of older, established movement leaders, the students of SNCC—represented in Selma by John Lewis and James Foreman—injected a youthful militancy into the civil rights movement after the group’s founding in 1960, with field organizers throughout the South leading aggressive and often scrappy campaigns for voting rights and desegregation. Students like Foreman and Lewis had been organizing voter registration drives in Selma since 1963, but faced vicious opposition from county law enforcement officials and the local Ku Klux Klan that made the task exceedingly difficult.

DuVernay shows us just a snapshot of the work that happened in Selma, but it’s an important one. The city was carefully chosen. Alabama Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth) and Sheriff Clark had already proven themselves villains as cartoonishly obstinate as Bull Connor, the commissioner of public safety in Birmingham, Alabama, whose brutality in conducting that city’s police department helped land the movement on national television and spark public outrage. The coverage helped to dismantle any misconceptions of some genteel, contented Jim Crow South.

The film suggests that obstinacy extended to the White House. “He’ll ignore us if he can,” King says in the film of President Johnson’s stance on voting rights before the Selma campaign. “The only way to stop him from doing this is being on the front page of The New York Times every morning and on the TV news every night.” In a move that angered some student organizers who’d been carefully cultivating relationships there, SCLC members rapidly escalated the situation in Selma in order to put Johnson’s feet to the fire.

The Selma campaign was a prime example of one of King’s favorite tactics: nonviolent war. In a 1985 interview, movement leader James Bevel (played by rapper Common in the film), reflected that “if a young person could go to Vietnam and engage in a war, then [a] person … the same age or younger could engage in a nonviolent war.”

As civil rights historian Emilyne Crosby points out, it was “female agitator” and seasoned strategist Diane Nash (played by an underutilized Tessa Taylor) who first urged organizers to take up nonviolent war, resulting in the 1961 fight to desegregate the South’s public transit system. In that campaign, young white and black activists intentionally heightened—simply by riding integrated buses from the north into the South—the conflict with racist white mobs and law enforcement, who waited along the bus routes. Knowing they would be arrested, students publicized the rides and overwhelmed city jail systems to force otherwise passive observers to take sides: with nonviolent students or the people beating them. National news coverage quickly caught on; images of the “Freedom Riders” being beaten in the streets flooded Americans’ nightly news programs.

The fault, activists argued, lay with the White House: They could desegregate transit or have blood on their hands. Faced with mounting pressure, then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy finally pushed the Interstate Commerce Commission to integrate.

War, in Selma, isn’t an overstatement. DuVernay doesn’t shy away from the emotional and physical battle scars worn by the movement, showing a nearly frame-by-frame recreation of the Bloody Sunday confrontation on Edmund Pettus Bridge. She pays careful attention to the toll that violence and constant fear of death took on King and his wife, Coretta Scott (deftly portrayed by British actress Carmen Ejogo).

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect time for Selma’s release: on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and amid the Black Lives Matter movement, which demands, yet again, we wake up and fight for justice.

Aside from being a masterfully constructed, beautifully shot film, Selmaallows viewers to imagine what it would mean to—in the slightly wonkish words of SCLC organizer Bayard Rustin—“break down” the institution of racism “into the tangible tactics it takes to dismantle it.”

In simpler terms, Selma offers a window into the past that might just help tackle the problems of the present.

Opinion Wed, 28 Jan 2015 10:29:17 -0500
Doomsday Clock Creeps Toward Midnight

The next generation has good reason to be afraid: Representatives of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have just reset the iconic Doomsday Clock, bringing us even closer to midnight. At the toll of the bell, they warn, the globe faces apocalypse — and while the clock above is set at five minutes to twelve, that’s so 2012. This month, they jumped the clock ahead by two minutes, to three minutes to midnight. If we don’t do something soon, they warn, we may be facing an ugly future.

Researchers first developed the Doomsday Clock in 1947, initially as a metaphor for the risk of nuclear war. The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is responsible for maintaining it, with a board of consultants that meets twice annually to determine if the clock should be advanced, rewound, or left as it is. 60 years later, the organization added concerns about climate change and other environmental factors to their calculations in order to generate a more accurate reflection of global conditions.

1953 marked the Doomsday Clock’s nadir, when the clock stood at just one minute to midnight in response to nuclear testing conducted by both the United States and Russia. It served as a sober warning that if both nations didn’t cooperate to develop a more friendly relationship, they might annihilate each other and pose significant risks for the rest of the globe. In the following years, the clock moved back and forth to reflect long-term trends observed by members of the board that met to determine whether to reset the clock. By 1991, the landscape had shifted, with the fall of the Soviet Union and a more open political climate leading to a decision to wind the clock all way back to 17 minutes to midnight.

Since 1991, however, the clock has been pushing inexorably towards midnight, and the recent decision marks an ominous moment. The organization declares that it’s concerned with two factors that may be pushing the globe towards a crisis point. One hearkens back to the origins of the clock: Nuclear arsenals. Despite repeated and systemic attempts to get the world to cooperate on destroying nuclear arsenals and securing remaining nuclear material, countries like the United States and Russia are still clinging to nuclear munitions and escalating political tensions pose a significant global threat.

Researchers are also frustrated by inaction on climate change. Numerous global conferences on the subject have failed to achieve meaningful policy and change, though some nations are moving toward implementation of emissions reduction and other measures to reduce their ecological footprints. Overall, however, the global climate is shifting and big players on the global stage, like the United States, appear reluctant to take a regulatory role and a global lead in addressing the issue. Moving the clock forward is a stark reminder that the world is running out of time unless the international community can act swiftly on the issue.

The clock is not intended to act as a literal countdown to doomsday. Rather, it’s a symbolic representation of the political situation on Earth and how it may influence our future prospects of survival. The closer it moves to midnight, the more imperative it is that we act. The further away we move, the better we’re doing at addressing issues of concern to build a more stable world to pass on to future generations. It’s worrying that the clock hasn’t moved backward since 1991, a sign that we are engaged in a dangerous progression towards another breaking point like 1953.

News Wed, 28 Jan 2015 10:20:14 -0500
BPA Exposure Linked to Changes in Stem Cells, Lower Sperm Production

BPA and other estrogenic compounds hamper development of the stem cells responsible for producing sperm in mice, which suggests such exposure could contribute to declining sperm counts in men, according to a new study.

The study, published in PLoS Genetics, is the first to suggest that low, brief exposures to bisphenol-A, or other estrogens such as those used in birth control but found as water contaminants, early in life can alter the stem cells responsible for producing sperm later in life.

Exposure to estrogens “is not simply affecting sperm being produced now, but impacting the stem cell population, and that will affect sperm produced throughout the lifetime,” said Patricia Hunt, a geneticist at Washington State University who led the study.

BPA is a ubiquitous chemical found in most people and used to make polycarbonate plastic and found in some food cans and paper receipts. People also are exposed to synthetic estrogens used in birth control as they are commonly found contaminating water, even after treatment. 

The US Food and Drug Administration banned BPA from baby bottles in 2012 but maintains that BPA currently used in food containers and packaging is safe. And this week the European Food Safety Authority announced in a new assessment there is “no consumer health risk from bisphenol-A exposure.”

However, Hunt’s study adds to evidence that low doses of the compound may harm us.

Hunt and colleagues exposed some newborn mice to BPA and some newborn mice to a synthetic estrogen used in birth control pills and hormone therapy.

These exposures – comparable to human exposures to the compounds -- caused “permanent alterations” to the stem cells responsible for sperm production, the authors wrote.

The researchers also transplanted the stem cells into unexposed mice and verified the impacts to sperm development.

It is “sobering evidence” for possible harmful impacts from short-term exposure, said Mary Ann Handel, a senior research scientist with The Jackson Laboratory, which specializes in genetics research.

Scientists previously found BPA exposure impacts mice testis size and sperm development and prostate growth. But what Hunt and colleagues did was different – they found a possible reason why these things happen: changes to the stem cells, which are vital for male reproduction.

“The negative effects of estrogenic chemicals on the developing male include an expanding list of subtle changes to the developing brain, reproductive tract, and testis,” the authors wrote. “Changes in all three have the potential to induce major reproductive repercussions and … the biological underpinnings remain unclear.”

Over the past few decades, researchers have noted declining sperm counts and quality in places such as Europe, Japan and the United States. In Denmark, more than 40 percent of young men have sperm counts associated with infertility or decreased fertility.

“When you show you’re impacting a stem cell – that’s a huge deal,” said University of Missouri scientist Frederick vom Saal, who was not part of the study. “This exposure could very well be the basis for transgenerational loss of sperm production.”

Sperm production is a continuous process: Once males hit puberty and start producing sperm, stem cells slowly divide and give rise to new cells to produce sperm.

And, while there are some limits in using mice and extrapolating findings to humans, the reproductive systems’ “fundamentals are the same,” Hunt said.

However, Steven Hentges of the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, said in an emailed response that multiple large studies "consistently find no reproductive effects in males or females at any dose remotely close to the levels of BPA to which people are actually exposed."

He said Hunt's study is of "limited relevance to human health" and that the doses used were much higher than actual human exposure. 

Hunt said that is not true. 

"The levels we used are based on previous studies and produce very low levels in blood that are lower than those reported in humans," Hunt said. 

Vom Saal said it’s important in future studies to see if the stem cell changes from exposure are passed to future generations. Evidence suggests that estrogenic compounds appear to alter the ability of genes to function properly, a phenomenon referred to as epigenetic changes.

When such changes happen, it can mean similar problems in sperm production for future generations. And “since most people are consistently exposed to BPA and other estrogenic compounds, each generation could have it a bit worse,” vom Saal said.

Hunt and colleagues did run into one problem – there are secondary impacts, such as fluid retention, which make it difficult to take the stem cell research to the next level and look at correlations in sperm cell counts and measures of reproductive ability.

“Exposure is not just affecting cells in testis but the whole animal,” Hunt said.

Hunt admits this is “complicated genetics stuff,” but said the consequences are quite important.

“This implicates cells way upstream” and could mean problems for “subsequent generations after exposure,” she said.

News Wed, 28 Jan 2015 10:07:02 -0500
Science Stuff ]]> Art Wed, 28 Jan 2015 09:50:05 -0500