Truthout Stories http://truth-out.org Tue, 03 Mar 2015 15:29:57 -0500 en-gb For Peace, We Must Defeat Netanyahu on Iran Diplomacy http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/29426-for-peace-we-must-defeat-netanyahu-on-iran-diplomacy http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/29426-for-peace-we-must-defeat-netanyahu-on-iran-diplomacy

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the Capitol Building in Washington, March 3, 2015. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the Capitol Building in Washington, March 3, 2015. (Photo: Jabin Botsford / The New York Times)

Peace and justice advocates in the US are fighting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his US amen corner on two fronts. The first front is the fight over Iran diplomacy, which Netanyahu is trying to blow up. The second front is the fight for justice for the Palestinians. One front is on the front page of the newspaper right now. The other front is barely a footnote right now in mainstream public discourse.

But it seems obvious that if we can't beat these people on Iran diplomacy, we haven't got a prayer of beating them on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. If we want to have a serious conversation about how to beat Netanyahu on settlements, the fight over Iran diplomacy should be required reading, because we're facing the same adversaries, with the key difference right now being that on the second front, we have far fewer friends.

Since 2006, with one exception, every time we ever won anything on the Iran diplomacy front, President Obama was on our side. Or, if you like, we were on President Obama's side.

On our issues, it matters greatly who the President of the United States is; it's far and away the most important thing. This is why on our issues, stopping the uncontested Hillary train is a top priority. Senator Schumer bragged that Netanyahu tickets were going like hot latkes. Within the Democratic Party, that's who Senator Schumer represents. Within the Democratic Party, that's who Hillary is representing right now. That is why we must do all we can to stop that train.

Over the last several weeks, many of us were very engaged in trying to get Democrats to skip Netanyahu's speech to Congress. We generated tens of thousands of petition signatures and emails and thousands of phone calls. We organized petition deliveries to Congress.

And, as of Tuesday morning, The Hill reported that 56 Democrats were skipping the speech. JFP and NIAC reported 61. The majority of the Congressional Black Caucus skipped. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the national leaders of the populist wing of the Democratic Party, skipped the speech. So: yay us! That's totally historic.

But let's not forget the context in which we got 61 Democrats to skip. The context is that Netanyahu is attacking Obama. In the past there was no fight over whether Democrats would attend Netanyahu's speech or not; it would have been unthinkable. It's because of Netanyahu attacking Obama that it became thinkable; it's because Obama is trying to do something - make a diplomatic agreement with Iran - that Netanyahu and his amen corner are resorting to extreme measures to try to stop.

If we want to win on Israel-Palestine, we have to win on Iran diplomacy. This is as much a must-win for people who are focused on justice for Palestinians as it is for people who are focused on Iran diplomacy. Because if we lose on Iran diplomacy, people who we need to recruit to help us win on Israel-Palestine will conclude that it's totally futile.

But if we win on Iran diplomacy - if Obama wins - it's a new world. If Obama wins on Iran diplomacy, will he be content? Will he say, OK, that's my legacy, that's good enough, no point in trying to do anything else? Victory is addictive. If the workers win a nickel raise, they don't think, ok, that's all we can ever get. They think: that was great. Maybe next time we can get more. That's why the boss fights them tooth and nail on the nickel. Because he knows that victory is addictive.

I think this is a key reason that Netanyahu is fighting so hard against what everyone knows the Iran deal is, what everyone has known for years the Iran deal is. Because he knows that this might not be the end. If Obama wins on this, maybe Obama will go after the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

If Obama did go after Israeli settlements in the West Bank, it's plausible that he could bring Democratic constituency groups with him. Think about the progressive Democratic groups that have sent alerts on Iran diplomacy. If Obama wins on Iran diplomacy and then goes after the settlements, some of these groups might come with. I'm not saying that they will; I'm saying that they might. It's plausible. Victory is addictive for them too. If it becomes a Democratic/Republican thing - as this did - if Democrats start to rally around Obama, that makes it much easier for these groups to come in, to do things that they couldn't do before.

That, to me, is a plausible path to victory on Israel-Palestine. Obama wins on Iran diplomacy. Then Obama makes a move on Israel-Palestine, we rally Democrats behind him, we rally Democratic constituency groups behind him, we rally Congressional Democrats behind him. Then we win.

To test that proposition, we have to win on Iran diplomacy right now. That means we have to rally Congressional Democrats to defeat the two bills - the Kirk-Menendez bill and the Corker-Graham bill - that AIPAC is pushing in Congress this week, bills whose passage would blow up the Iran talks. Everyone in the US who cares about justice for Palestinians must do everything they can to defeat these two bills.

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Opinion Tue, 03 Mar 2015 14:50:22 -0500
A Review of "Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA" http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/29423-poison-spring-the-secret-history-of-pollution-and-the-epa http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/29423-poison-spring-the-secret-history-of-pollution-and-the-epa
Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA
by E.G. Vallianatos and McKay Jenkins
(Bloomsbury Press)
 

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” Richard Feynman famously declared in 1966. Ever quick to challenge accepted wisdom, he distinguished the laudable ignorance of science, forever seeking unattainable certainties, from the dangerous ignorance of experts who professed such certainty.

Twenty years later, he would drop a rubber ring into a glass of ice water to show a panel of clueless rocket experts how willful ignorance of basic temperature effects likely caused the Challenger shuttle disaster. (1)

Experts with delusions of certainty create imitative forms of science, he warned, producing “the kind of tyranny we have today in the many institutions that have come under the influence of pseudoscientific advisors.” (2)

Feynman’s warning against faith in the phony trappings of “cargo cult science” fell on deaf ears. Policies affecting every aspect of our lives are now based on dangerous forms of ignorance.

A prime case in point is the noble edifice of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where a high-ranking EPA official was recently jailed and fined for collecting pay and bonuses for decades of non-existent work while he claimed to be working elsewhere for the CIA. Such long-standing fraud would hardly come as a surprise to Evaggelos Vallianatos, who toiled for a quarter of a century in the EPA’s Pesticide Division, ostensibly responsible for protecting human health and the environment from commercial poisons. His new book, Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA, documents a culture of fraud and corruption infesting every corner and closet of the agency.

The EPA, created with much fanfare by Richard Nixon in 1970, was an agency crippled at birth by inadequate funding, political hypocrisy, and laws protecting industry profits above all. Vallianatos points out that one of the fledgling agency’s greatest handicaps was its initial staffing with personnel from USDA, steeped in the religion of corporate agriculture and lethal technologies. With USDA staff came also USDA’s outdated pesticide registrations, which were to be reviewed and reregistered by EPA.  In addition, hundreds of new pesticide applications accumulated every year, each supported by industry-produced safety studies to meet new federal requirements. Hired as scientists, EPA staffers spent their time cutting and pasting industry studies and conclusions into rubber-stamped registration approvals. Under industry-crafted laws, once a pesticide was registered, it could never be unregistered without massive, unequivocal evidence of harm.

As if such misuse of science weren’t bad enough, audits by FDA and EPA soon found that most of the thousands of industry safety studies used to approve pesticide registrations were fraudulent. Alerted by FDA scientist Adrian Gross, EPA had discovered in 1976 that Industrial BioTest Laboratories [IBT], which had conducted many of the pesticide safety tests submitted to EPA by manufacturers, had been routinely faking tests, falsifying data, and altering results for years.  Subsequent investigations of other testing laboratories found similar practices in more than half the labs whose tests supported EPA registrations of pesticides.

“IBT was not a unique case of scientific fraud,” Vallianatos writes, “it was emblematic of a dark and deviant scientific culture, a ‘brave new science’ with deep roots throughout agribusiness, the chemical industry, universities, and the government.” (3)

In 1979, during the seven years of EPA dithering over this scandal, Vallianatos came to work at EPA. He soon learned that not a single pesticide registration was to be canceled due to fraudulent or nonexistent test data. Instead, he notes, EPA’s reaction was to outsource science. It shut down its own testing laboratories, closed its own libraries of toxicity data on thousands of chemicals, and outsourced all evaluations of industry-sponsored studies. “The unspoken understanding in this outsourcing of government functions has been the near certainty of finding industry data satisfactory – all the time.” This issue is relevant today, given that chemicals such as 2,4-D and glyphosate (Roundup™), whose uses have been vastly increased by GMO practices, were originally registered on the basis of invalid IBT studies.

During Vallianatos’s first year at EPA,1980, some 1.1 billion pounds of pesticide active ingredients were applied to U.S. food crops, a number that does not include home and garden uses, parklands, golf courses, playing fields, and municipal landscapes. In 2011, two billion pounds of pesticides were sold in the U.S.  Most if not all of those pesticides lacked valid testing data then, and still lack such data today.  Furthering the fraud, Vallianatos points out, the active ingredient is only the tip of the iceberg, being as little as one percent of the product; the remainder is a trade secret stew of untested, unknown “inert” ingredients that are often more toxic than the active ingredients. What he calls “The Big Business of Fraudulent Science” has replaced even the semblance of environmental protection.

Poison Spring chronicles some of the consequences of that fraud in an agency snared in its own tangled lies: cover-ups of dioxin levels in drinking water and in dead babies; routine suppression of data linking pesticides to soaring rates of cancer, birth defects, and chronic disease; industry access to everything; “revolving door” administrators serving corporate bosses; political appointees dismantling EPA labs and data libraries to dispose of damaging evidence; the cutting of research funds for nontoxic alternatives; the harsh retribution visited on whistleblowers; and ever and again, bureaucrats, with full knowledge of the consequences, setting policies that result in death and suffering. For 25 years, Vallianatos saw and documented it all.

“EPA officials know global chemical and agribusiness industries are manufacturing science,” Vallianatos writes. “They know their products are dangerous…. [EPA] scientists find themselves working in a roomful of funhouse mirrors, plagiarizing industry studies and cutting and pasting the findings of industry studies as their own.”

“This entire book is, in a sense, about a bureaucracy going mad,” Vallianatos adds.

Bureaucracy does not go mad by itself, however. Public indifference to the ignorance of experts and public tolerance of lies are what allow such madness to flourish, enabled by the scientific community’s silence. Inexorably, Vallianatos found, “science and policy themselves have been made a prop to the pesticides industry and agribusiness.”

Such monumental fraud demands drastic remedies, which Vallianatos bravely urges: rebuild an EPA completely independent from industry and politics, remove incentives for huge scale, chemically-dependent corporate agriculture, and address the underlying problem by encouraging small family farms and agriculture without chemical warfare.

“Traditional (and often organic) farmers – until seventy-five years ago, the only farmers there were – are slowly beginning to make a comeback.  They have always known how to raise crops and livestock without industrial poisons,” Vallianatos points out.  “They are the seed for a future harvest of good food, a healthy natural world, and democracy in rural America – and the world.”

These are facts, and this is a book that scientists and citizens alike ignore at great peril.

 

Footnotes:

(1) See his account of the investigation into the Challenger disaster in What Do You Care What Other People Think? By Richard P. Feynman, 1988.

(2) Richard Feynman, What is Science? Presented at the fifteenth annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association, 1966 in New York City, and reprinted from The Physics Teacher Vol. 7, issue 6, 1969, pp. 313-320 by permission of the editor and the author.

(3) For more information about the extent of this lab fraud, see A Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights, by Carol Van Strum, 1983, revised 2014 with full texts of Peter von Stackelberg’s exposé of the issue in a new appendix.

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Opinion Tue, 03 Mar 2015 13:38:17 -0500
David Petraeus Gets Hand-Slap for Leaking, Two Point Enhancement for Obstruction of Justice http://truth-out.org/news/item/29422-david-petraeus-gets-hand-slap-for-leaking-two-point-enhancement-for-obstruction-of-justice http://truth-out.org/news/item/29422-david-petraeus-gets-hand-slap-for-leaking-two-point-enhancement-for-obstruction-of-justice

As a supine Congress sitting inside a scaffolded dome applauded Benjamin Netanyahu calling to reject a peace deal with Iran, DOJ quietly announced it had reached a plea deal with former CIA Director David Petraeus for leaking Top Secret/Secure Compartmented Information materials to his mistress, Paula Broadwell.

Among the materials in the eight “Black Books” Petraeus shared with Broadwell were:

…classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings, and defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS’s discussions with the President of the United States of America.

The Black Books contained national defense information, including Top Secret/SCI and code word information.

Petraeus kept those Black Books full of code word information including covert identities and conversations with the President “in a rucksack up there somewhere.”

Petreaus retained those Black Books after he signed his debriefing agreement upon leaving DOD, in which he attested “I give my assurance that there is no classified material in my possession, custody, or control at this time.” He kept those Black Books in an unlocked desk drawer.

For mishandling some of the most important secrets the nation has, Petraeus will plead guilty to a misdemeanor. Petraeus, now an employee of a top private equity firm, will be fined $40,000 and serve two years of probation.

He will not, however, be asked to plead guilty at all for lying to FBI investigators. In an interview on October 26, 2012, he told the FBI,

(a) he had never provided any classified information to his biographer, and (b) he had never facilitated the provision of classified information to his biographer.

For lying to the FBI — a crime that others go to prison for for months and years — Petraeus will just get a two point enhancement on his sentencing guidelines. The Department of Justice basically completely wiped away the crime of covering up his crime of leaking some of the country’s most sensitive secrets to his mistress.

When John Kiriakou pled guilty on October 23, 2012 to crimes having to do with sharing a single covert officer’s identity just days before Petraeus would lie to the FBI about sharing, among other things, numerous covert officers’ identities with his mistress, Petraeus sent out a memo to the CIA stating,

Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.

David Petraeus is now proof of what a lie that statement was.

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News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 13:30:36 -0500
Segregation's Insidious New Look http://truth-out.org/news/item/29421-segregation-s-insidious-new-look http://truth-out.org/news/item/29421-segregation-s-insidious-new-look

Racial segregation dominated the American residential landscape for generations. We can't afford, suggests the research of Stanford's Sean Reardon, to let economic segregation have anywhere near as long a run.

The world’s ultra rich, filmmaker Jacques Peretti observed last month, now inhabit “their own Elysium-style biosphere.” They live in “a floating bubble high above Earth,” a “chrome Business Class tube in the sky.”

Peretti was, of course, speaking metaphorically. The rich don’t really live in their own biosphere. They live on terra firma, just like the rest of us. But they don’t live with the rest of us. In our increasingly unequal world, those of high income live more and more apart.

Just how apart? And what does this apartness mean for the rest of us? Researchers like Stanford sociologist Sean Reardon and his collaborator Kendra Bischoff of Cornell have been exploring questions like these. Too Much editor Sam Pizzigati recently spoke with Reardon about our economic segregation — and why it so matters.

Too Much: Most people today hear the word segregation and think racial segregation. You’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about economic segregation. Why?

Sean Reardon: We’re concerned about racial segregation, in part, because of the economic segregation that goes along with it. Racial segregation often means that blacks or Latinos are unequally concentrated in poor, disadvantaged neighborhoods, with poor quality schools and institutions.

I’ve been worried that in an era of rising income inequality we may also be seeing rising spatial inequality economically. I worry about the consequences that this might have, particularly for children growing up in increasingly unequal neighborhoods.

Too Much: We can see racial segregation. Economic segregation we can’t see in the same way. How do you go about measuring economic segregation?

Reardon: A couple different ways. One is simple, and I’ve used it in research with Kendra Bischoff at Cornell.

First, for all metropolitan area neighborhoods, we computed the ratio between every neighborhood’s median family income and the overall metropolitan area’s median income. Then we used this ratio to classify neighborhoods as either poor, low income, low-middle income, high-middle income, high income, or affluent. And then we looked at what proportion of families live in neighborhoods in each category.

When we do that, we find that in 1970 about two-thirds of all American families lived in neighborhoods that rated as middle-income relative to the larger metropolitan region. And only about one in six families in 1970 lived in very affluent or very poor neighborhoods.

Today, about 42 percent of families live in middle-income neighborhoods, and about one-third live in very affluent or very poor neighborhoods.

So we’ve seen a shift — from two-thirds to 42 percent — of families who live in middle-income, mixed-income neighborhoods. Many more families today are living in either very affluent or very poor neighborhoods.  You can see this very dramatically in maps showing the economic composition of neighborhoods over time.

Too Much: Is this shift toward greater economic segregation easing or accelerating?

Reardon: Economic segregation increased a lot in the 1980s. It didn’t change much in the 1990s, but it’s grown a lot again in the 2000s. So we seem to be in a period where economic segregation is rapidly increasing.

Too Much: Did the crash in 2008 bring on this latest increase?

Reardon: The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey — the ACS — isn’t sufficiently fine-grained, in a temporal sense, to let us now answer that question. To get a sample big enough to estimate each neighborhood’s income distribution, the ACS averages five years of data collection. So you can’t just look at 2007 before the crash and then look at 2009 because you always have a five-year moving average.

So at this point it’s hard to say what exactly happened as a result of the crash and what’s part of a longer-term trend.

Too Much: Just how does increasing economic inequality feed economic segregation?

Reardon: We have a market-driven housing world. With inequality in family income growing, families can afford to spend increasingly different amounts on housing. They end up sorting themselves more into neighborhoods that have housing at the price they can afford.

In the work that I did with Kendra Bischoff, we showed that in metropolitan areas where income inequality increased a great deal, that’s where you saw income segregation increase the most. In places where income inequality didn’t increase as much, that’s where you saw income segregation increase the least.

Too Much: So market dynamics help explain why the more affluent the affluent become, the more they live among their fellow affluent. Is there a social-psychological motor behind that growing economic segregation as well?

Reardon: There may well be. My research with Kendra Bischoff looked at housing patterns and their relationship to economic forces. But we don’t really observe people’s feelings or motivations. So I don’t have any evidence one way or another on that.

There is, however, some interesting new research from Ann Owens, a sociologist at the University of Southern California. She seems to be finding that increasing income segregation among families with children is driving most of the increase in income segregation.

Childless households — whether single people or elderly people or couples who don’t have kids — aren’t becoming that much more segregated from each other, according to Owens’ evidence.

It’s really families with children that are becoming more economically segregated, and this suggests that concerns about where children are going to grow up and what schools they’ll go to — and maybe who they’re going to play with — are interacting with income inequality to drive the patterns of income segregation.

Too Much: And that brings us to the notion that increasing economic segregation itself generates increasing economic inequality.

Reardon: We can imagine lots of ways increasing economic segregation could do that.

Increasing economic segregation means that kids from high-income families live with kids from other high-income families and go to schools that have more resources. They go on to do better in school and have a better chance at attending a good college.

We have evidence over the last few decades that the achievement gap — the test score gap — between students from high- and low-income families is widening, and maybe that’s related to these processes.

But I think there’s another less direct but maybe more insidious way that these things operate.

If high-income families increasingly live among other high-income families, and far away from middle class and lower-income families, then they may have less understanding of the plight of the middle class or the working class or the poor. They may be less willing to invest their resources in public goods — like schools and child care facilities and health care and infrastructure — that would broadly benefit everyone in society.

And so I worry that income segregation means that the affluent are increasingly sequestered in enclaves where they have little incentive to understand why we should invest in broad public goods that would help everyone. And since these affluent control the vast majority of our economic resources — and also a disproportionate share of our political resources — then their disinvestment from public goods has broad repercussions for our society. Kendra Bischoff and I wrote more about this possibility in a recent post.

Now we don’t have good evidence on the extent of this dynamic. It’s a tricky thing to trace. But it’s a potential concern that I think we should take very seriously.

Too Much: Let’s talk a bit more about your work on the achievement gap between black and white students and high- and low-income students. Fifty years ago, you’ve noted, the achievement gap between black and white students was almost twice as wide as the gap between high- and low-income students. Today’s income-achievement gap is more than 50 percent larger than the racial achievement gap. How directly do you think income and economic segregation is at play here?

Reardon: I think that many different forces, acting in concert, are determining these broad changes in racial and income achievement gaps. Economic segregation plays a role, but so do big changes in how much families invest in their young children’s education and educational experiences, growing disparities in family structure and family resources, maybe even the quality of schools.

So the growth of economic segregation may be part of the story, but I suspect there are many other parts of that story as well.

Too Much: Is income and economic segregation resegregating America along racial lines?

Reardon: No. If you look at residential patterns of racial segregation, they’ve been slowly declining over the past 40-plus years. Now some claim that these declines mean the end of racial separation, but that’s far from true. We still have enormous racial segregation in America, but it is running moderately lower than decades ago and has been steadily declining.

We’re not seeing upticks in racial segregation. We’re seeing slightly less racial segregation but more economic segregation. Those things don’t operate in tandem.

Too Much: We did, through the legal system, outlaw racial segregation in the United States. How can we attack the concentration of income and wealth that fuels economic segregation?

Reardon: That’s the billion-dollar question. We could outlaw explicit racial segregation because of the 14th amendment. The 14th amendment doesn’t apply to socio-economic status. So there’s little leverage there in the legal system.

We need the public and political will to create a society that’s founded more on equal opportunity and less on extremes in inequality and inheritance. You can attack inequality through the tax code and job creation and policies that support the middle class and things like that. You can alter patterns of segregation through housing policy, zoning policy, and investments in neighborhood public goods like schools, and parks, and community centers. You can’t do it through the Constitution.

Too Much: If levels of income and wealth inequality keep growing in the United States, just how economically segregated can we become? If current trends continue, what do you think the United States might look like 25 years from now?

Reardon: I don’t think it’s possible for inequality and economic segregation to continue to rise indefinitely. But things could get worse than they are. And we don’t want to have a society of gated communities and fortress communities.

Too Much: Is the discipline of sociology doing enough now to come to grips with the impact of growing economic inequality?

Reardon: I’d always like to see it do more, but we have a number of prominent sociologists who are addressing these issues, thinking about them, writing about them, worrying about them.

In some ways, issues of inequality have entered the public conversation over the last few years in ways they really haven’t for decades. We’ve always had sociologists concerned about these issues — and political scientists and economists and historians and so on. What’s different now? These issues appear more in the public discourse, and that means there’s potentially some appetite and political will to do something to remedy them.

Too Much: Where are your future research interests taking you?

Reardon: Many directions. I’m interested in the relationship between educational inequality and social mobility. I’m also interested in the great geographic variations we have on inequality.

Nationally, we can see patterns of increasing income segregation, increasing educational inequality by income, and slowly declining racial disparities. But different states, different cities, and different school districts show enormous differences in these patterns.

Trying to find places where the trends are going in a more positive direction — and trying to figure out what’s leading them in that direction — can help us think about broader policies that might help create broader economic opportunity for a much wider stretch of America.

 

Interested in delving deeper into Sean Reardon’s inequality-related work? You can find much of it now available online.

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News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 13:05:13 -0500
Farmer Cooperatives, Not Monsanto, Supply El Salvador With Seeds http://truth-out.org/news/item/29419-farmer-cooperatives-not-monsanto-supply-el-salvador-with-seeds http://truth-out.org/news/item/29419-farmer-cooperatives-not-monsanto-supply-el-salvador-with-seeds

In the face of overwhelming competition skewed by the rules of free trade, farmers in El Salvador have managed to beat the agricultural giants like Monsanto and Dupont to supply local corn seed to thousands of family farmers. Local seed has consistently outperformed the transnational product, and farmers helped develop El Salvador’s own domestic seed supply–all while outsmarting the heavy hand of free trade.

This week, the Ministry of Agriculture released a new round of contracts to provide seed to subsistence farmers nationwide through its Family Agriculture Program. Last year, over 560,000 family farmers across El Salvador planted corn and bean seed as part of the government’s efforts to revitalize small scale agriculture, and ensure food security in the rural marketplace. Drought conditions across the country made access to seed all the more vital for rural livelihoods, making the seed packets supplied through the government program the primary means for thousands of families to put food on the table.

In 2015, rural cooperatives and national associations will produce nearly 50% of the government’s corn seed supply, with 8% coming from native seed—a record high. In the Lower Lempa, where seven farmer organizations have produced corn seed since 2012, this means over 4,000 jobs and income for rural households, primarily employing women and young adults. The public procurement of seed—or the government’s purchasing power through contracts—signifies over $25 million for a rural economy still struggling to diversify and gain traction.

The success of locally-bred seed varieties, compounded with their low production costs, allowed the Family Agriculture Program to contribute to historically high yields nationwide for corn and beans. Last year, more farmers produced more corn and beans at the most efficient yield per acreage than any other year over the last decade. This has also led to a significant adjustment in El Salvador’s trade balance on corn: Imports of white corn in 2014 were a full 94% less than 2011.

Producing seed locally was no small feat. It involved savvy farming techniques, better business practices, and advocacy. It also required a government willing to take a critical look at the transnational agribusiness model that dominates the farming sector the world over.

The previous administration under Mauricio Funes understood this model, and its impact on a relatively small agricultural market like El Salvador’s. It also understood how to break these cycles of dependence on foreign agribusiness, and simultaneously build a more robust private sector through the power of public procurement. In answering his call, growers’ associations, categorized as small or medium-sized enterprises, had a steep learning curve in providing seed to meet government standards, including germination, yield rates and packaging. They also had to conform to government contracting guidelines, a task that proves difficult to navigate for many small-medium sized enterprises.

Throughout this process, EcoViva and partners at the Mangrove Association labored to prepare local cooperatives to successfully bid for and execute these contracts for corn seed. Our efforts paid off: in 2014, El Salvador successfully sourced quality seed from 16 national enterprises. Over 20% of corn seed originated in local cooperative fields in the Lower Lempa region, and participating families saw their annual income double—while saving the government hundreds of thousands of dollars by providing affordable seeds. In 2015, that number has risen to nearly 50%.

Despite these successes, some questioned the validity of Salvadoran businesses providing seed. In 2013 and 2014, the United States Trade Representative and the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center circulated an annual report that cited concerns about government purchases, including seed, under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Coincidental to these reports, the American Chamber of Commerce in San Salvador complained in the press that their members were being denied contracts for seed, and Salvadoran farmers denied a superior product. These members included Monsanto, Dupont and Pioneer, whose affiliates had provided seed in the past to the Salvadoran government. CAFTA Chapter 9 outlines the standards for how contracting governments, such as El Salvador’s, can purchase goods and services. It sets the rules for open, competitive and transparent contract approval. It also stipulates that governments cannot discriminate against foreign businesses.

During the period questioned by the USTR, the government of El Salvador ironically conducted a contract process that allowed more businesses to provide a better product at a cheaper price. Prior to 2013, the Salvadoran government bought 70% of its annual demand from a Monsanto affiliate, purchasing a seed variety with no field trial validation and at a price over double that being offered by local seed producers. In 2014, EcoViva and allies proved that the Salvadoran government denied this affiliate a contract because its seed was expensive and lacked proper field trials- not because it was a foreign company.

Nevertheless, in 2014, the United States threatened to deny foreign aid to El Salvador unless it opened its seed contracts to foreign businesses, then stepped back when its power to use foreign aid as leverage on free trade standards was publicly questioned.  Today, the United States now says that it supports El Salvador’s current contract process on seed—a process in which national seed producers continue–as before–to offer a better, more competitive product.

Local seed producers like the Mangrove Association and cooperatives in the Lower Lempa can guarantee the government of El Salvador seed varieties that have better yields and lower prices than what is found in the transnational agribusiness market. Salvadoran businesses have learned to compete for and win government contracts, which allows small and medium sized enterprises to innovate and employ hundreds of people in rural communities. Improving the rural economy is critical for these areas, such as the Lower Lempa, that have high rates of unemployed young adults fleeing to the United States in search of jobs and opportunities. National cooperatives and businesses have also helped to protect El Salvador’s own seed lineage, and reduce the quantities of harmful chemicals applied daily to Salvadoran soil. It’s initiatives like these that provide a way forward for El Salvador and its domestic economy in a globalized trade environment.

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News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 12:57:37 -0500
Chicago Police Misconduct Payouts Topped $50 Million in 2014 http://truth-out.org/news/item/29417-chicago-police-misconduct-payouts-topped-50-million-in-2014 http://truth-out.org/news/item/29417-chicago-police-misconduct-payouts-topped-50-million-in-2014

The City of Chicago paid $54.2 million in settlements and verdicts for police misconduct cases last year, including more than $9.5 million in attorneys’ fees, according to an analysis of city law department data by The Chicago Reporter.

That’s more than the budget for the offices of the mayor, the city treasurer, the city council, the council committees and the department of human resources – combined.

Police misconduct complaints include those alleging excessive force, extended detention, false arrest, failure to provide medical care, illegal search or seizure, malicious prosecution and wrongful conviction.

The vast majority of payments came from settlements, which usually do not require the city or police officers to admit wrongdoing. Only 9 of the 161 police misconduct cases in 2014 were the result of jury verdicts.

Many of those who received payments last year filed suits against the city years earlier, with one lawsuit going back as far as 2004.

The only year since 2008 when the city has paid more for police misconduct than last year was 2013, when verdicts for five of the torture victims of disgraced Commander Jon Burge were paid out, totaling $34.3 million. The total amount of police misconduct payouts that year was $81.3 million.

Police misconduct complaints accounted for just 15 percent of all cases brought against the city that were settled last year, but more than half of all payouts. In total, the city paid more than $95 million to settle cases against police, fire, transportation, water management and other departments. Many of the cases were for car accidents involving city vehicles.

Police misconduct cases cost the city more than three and a half times that of other city cases, on average, or about $335,000 per case. However, that figure was skewed because of a small number of payouts that were $1 million or more. The median settlement amount, where exactly half of the cases are more and half are less, is $35,550.

The $54.2 million in payments to victims and attorneys in 2014 doesn’t include the amount the city paid its own lawyers to defend against the cases, which often name both the city and specific police officers as defendants. An analysis by the People’s Law Office showed that Chicago paid nearly $63 million to 11 outside law firms to defend the city and its police officers against allegations of misconduct from 2003 to 2012, or an average of $7.1-million per year. The 57 lawyers in the city’s civil rights litigation division, which defend the city and police officers is misconduct cases, have a budget of $4.6 million this year.

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News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 12:39:28 -0500
US Population Turning Away From Organized Religion in Record Numbers http://truth-out.org/news/item/29416-us-population-turning-away-from-organized-religion-in-record-numbers http://truth-out.org/news/item/29416-us-population-turning-away-from-organized-religion-in-record-numbers

With fire-breathing religion figuring anew in global conflicts, and political discussions at home often dominated by the nuttery of the Christian right, you might get the sense that somebody’s god is ready to mug you around every street corner. But if you’re the type who doesn’t like to hang your hat on organized religion, here’s a bit of good news: in America, your numbers are growing.

There are more religiously unaffiliated people in the U.S. today than ever before. Starting in the 1980s, a variety of polls using different methodologies have come to the same conclusion: people who do not identify with religious labels are on the rise, perhaps even doubling in that time frame.  

Some call them “nones”: agnostics, atheists, deists, secular humanists, general humanists, and people who just don’t care to identify with any religious group. It’s not exactly correct to call them nonbelievers, because some still have faith and spirituality in some sense or another. A 2012 Pew study noted that 30 percent of these people believe in "God or universal spirit" and around 20 percent even pray every day. But according to the latest research, Americans checking the “none of the above” box will make up an increasingly important force in the country. Other groups, like born-again evangelicals, have grown more percentage-wise, but the nones have them beat in absolute numbers.

The nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute has documented this sea change in its American Values Atlas, which it released last Wednesday. The fascinating study provides demographic, religious and political data based on surveys conducted throughout 2014. According to PRRI director of research Dan Cox, "The U.S. religious landscape is undergoing a dramatic transformation that is fundamentally reshaping American politics and culture."

Last year, for the very first time, Protestants lost their majority status in the Institute’s annual report, making up only 47 percent of those surveyed. The religiously unaffiliated, who come in at 22 percent, boast numbers on par with major religious groups like American Catholics. All told, the unaffiliated is the second-largest group in the country. It was also the most common group chosen by residents in 13 states, with the largest share (a third or more) in Washington, Oregon and New Hampshire. In Ohio and Virginia, this group was tied for first place. The unaffiliated don’t find too many like-minded folks down in Mississippi, however, where they make up only 10 percent of the population.

The study also found that there are 15 states where the unaffiliated constitute the second-largest group.

So what do we know about these people? Nones tend to be more politically liberal — three-quarters favor same-sex marriage and legal abortion. They also have higher levels of education and income than other groups. While about one out of five Americans is unaffiliated, the number is much higher among young people: Pew research shows that a third of Americans under 30 have no religious affiliation. Harvard professor Robert Putnam, who studies religion, thinks the trend among younger people is part of their general lack of interest in community institutions and institutions in general.

Last year, the Washington Post ran an article citing research by Allen Downey, a professor of computer science at Massachusetts’ Olin College of Engineering, who claims that people become nones mainly for two reasons: lack of religious upbringing (OMG those hippie parents!) and... the Internet. According to Downey, as much as 20 percent of unaffiliation is attributable to Internet use. He found that between 1990 and 2010, the share of Americans claiming no religious affiliation grew from 8 percent to 18 percent while the number of Americans surfing the Web jumped from almost nothing to 80 percent. But he acknowledges, as his critics are quick to point out, that correlation does not causation make.

One thing is certain: voting nones are making their presence felt in politics. They are thought to have helped Obama win a second term.

But the GOP doesn’t seem to show many signs of reducing the outsized influence of white evangelicals, who represent only 18 percent of the population, at least publicly. Just a couple of weeks ago, presidential hopeful Scott Walker could be seen refusing to answer a question about evolution, as if embracing widely accepted science would make him an apostate. Ordained Southern Baptist Mike Huckabee, also making noises of running, just released a book titled God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, which kind of makes the Lord sound like the Great Bubba in the sky. But on the secretive big money donor trail, which all serious candidates must follow, the only religion they'll be talking about much is free market fundamentalism. Your libertarians, your supply siders, and your various fatcats care a whole lot more about their bank accounts than any spiritual reckonings. Getting the government out of their way to leave them to their plundering is their holy scripture.

But when talking to voters, the GOP really can't afford to tone it down, because while monied elites tend to be secular, selling free-market pillage to the people getting robbed is not a very effective strategy. So they still have to mask their agenda behind appeals to popular religion so the non-rich will vote against their economic interests in places like Tennessee, which has the highest share of white evangelicals, at 43 percent. (White mainline Protestants account for 14 percent of the population nationally.)

As you might expect, the fact that religion is losing its grip on the daily lives of Americans is freaking a lot of people out. The New York Times’ David Brooks is quite alarmed, admonishing nones that “secularism has to do for nonbelievers what religion does for believers — arouse the higher emotions, exalt the passions in pursuit of moral action.” Of course, secularists only form one portion of the unaffiliated group, but considering that Mr. Brooks likes to wax on about the moral probity of America’s founders — your George Washingtons and so on — he might ask himself which box they might have checked.

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News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 12:32:46 -0500
Obama's Veto of Keystone XL Bittersweet for Texans Forced to Allow the Pipeline on Their Land http://truth-out.org/news/item/29415-obama-s-veto-of-keystone-xl-bittersweet-for-texans-forced-to-allow-the-pipeline-on-their-land http://truth-out.org/news/item/29415-obama-s-veto-of-keystone-xl-bittersweet-for-texans-forced-to-allow-the-pipeline-on-their-land

As expected, President Obama vetoed the Republican bill attempting to allow TransCanada to finish constructing the Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline. While the veto received praise from environmentalists, along with encouragement to reject the pipeline entirely, the veto provides little consolation to those in Texas who already have the southern route of the pipeline moving Canadian tar sands under their land. 

“Don't get me wrong. I’m thrilled that President Obama owned up to his promise to veto the Keystone XL pipeline bill today. But in the same breath I'm spittin' mad,” Julia Trigg Crawford, Texas landowner who fought TransCanada from taking her land by eminent domain but lost, told DeSmogBlog.

“Nearly three years ago, with the exact same data in front of him he decided to 'cut through the red tape and fast track' the southern leg of this project. Where was his 'climate test' then?” “Before the ink is dry on this veto, President Obama owes all of us in Texas and Oklahoma an explanation. Better yet, an apology.”

Julia Trigg Crawford next to the easement on her land in Sumner, Texas that TransCanada condemned to build the southern route of the Keystone XL pipeline. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)Julia Trigg Crawford next to the easement on her land in Sumner, Texas that TransCanada condemned to build the southern route of the Keystone XL pipeline. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)

In the constant clamor from high profile environmental groups for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, there is little mention that the president fast-tracked the southern portion of the pipeline. Nor do most people know that TransCanada is already transporting tar sands from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Protesters against the Keystone XL in Austin, Texas on February 17, 2013 in solidarity with protesters in Washington D.C. where tens of thousands rallied in against Climate Change. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)Protesters against the Keystone XL in Austin, Texas on February 17, 2013 in solidarity with protesters in Washington D.C. where tens of thousands rallied in against Climate Change. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)

The southern route of the Keystone XL, renamed the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project, connects to TransCanada's Keystone pipeline that runs from Alberta, Canada, to Cushing, Oklahoma. The southern route of the Keystone XL was put into operation in January 2014. If the northern route were permitted, the company would be able to send more tar sands product over a shorter distance, but a ban on constructing the northern route does not stop pipelines across America from transporting tar sands to refineries and export terminals. 

While the battle to stop the Keystone XL's northern route was being waged, Enbridge, another Canadian corporation, created its own pipeline. Named “The Keystone Clone” by DeSmogBlog, it runs from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Like TransCanada, Enbridge connected lines to make a pipeline pathway from Canada to the Gulf with the intent of reaching the global market for tar sands producers.  

Enbridge's Alberta Clipper (Line 67), Flanagan South and Seaway Twin pipelines make up “The Keystone Clone.” As Steve Horn reported for DeSmogBlog, Enbridge's “system does what Keystone XL and the Keystone Pipeline system at large is designed to do: ship hundreds of thousands of barrels per day of Alberta's tar sands diluted bitumen ['dilbit’] to both Gulf Coast refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, and the global export market.”

Michael Bishop, a Marine veteran, medical student, farmer, and partner in a bio-diesel engineering venture, resides in Douglass, Texas, where he is continuing to fight against TransCanada and the government for putting the Keystone pipeline on his property. He thinks the president's veto of the bill was theater.

“Congress has no legal authority to permit this pipeline in the first place, ” Bishop told DeSmogBlog.

Michael Bishop flies his flag upside down to show his property is under distress while TransCanada installed the Keystone XL pipeline on his land in Douglas, Texas. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)Michael Bishop flies his flag upside down to show his property is under distress while TransCanada installed the Keystone XL pipeline on his land in Douglas, Texas. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)

Keystone XL pipeline being installed on Mike Bishop’s property. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)Keystone XL pipeline being installed on Mike Bishop’s property. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)

Some of the President’s concerns about the northern route of the pipeline are in line with the objections Bishop has that continue to fuel his battle against the southern route, which he’d like to see dug up. “Either Obama fast-tracked the southern route for political gain, or he is bi-polar,” Bishop said. 

“President Obama has violated my civil rights. He has put one class of people over another. How can he protect Nebraska and ignore Texas?” Bishop asks. 

Acting as his own lawyer, Bishop has challenged the US Army Corps of Engineers, alleging it didn't give Texas equal protection under the Clean Air and Water Acts as it did Nebraska, where the Keystone XL route was rerouted away from sensitive aquifers.

In his pending lawsuit, Bishop alleges:

“The Corps yielded to political pressure and expedited the permit in violation of federal environmental regulations. The state didn't do the kind of environmental impact study that was done in Nebraska, which resulted in the pipeline being re-routed away from the aquifer. The path of the southern pipeline portion goes through the Texas Ogallala Aquifer, which is also classified as an 'ultra-sensitive area’ by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Texas was not given equal protection under the law.”

Warning sign for the Keystone XL Pipeline in Douglas, Texas. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)Warning sign for the Keystone XL Pipeline in Douglas, Texas. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)

The recent ruling by Nebraska judge Mark Kozisek, denying TransCanada the right to condemn land using eminent domain, and a ruling in the Court of Appeals in Beaumont, Texas in favor of David Holland that reversed a lower court’s ruling that gave Denbury Green Pipeline-Texas LLC the right to use eminent domain, strengthen Bishops case.

“These rulings indicate landowner rights are now being seriously considered by the courts,” Bishop said.

Kathy DaSilva, a spokesperson for Tar Sands Blockade, an environmental activist group, thinks those who are serious about protecting the environment from climate change must look beyond President Obama’s gesture. “We are only talking about one segment of one tarsand-bearing pipeline being blocked,” DaSilva told DeSmogBlog.

Kathy DaSilva (second from right) at a pipeline safety conference in New Orleans. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)Kathy DaSilva (second from right) at a pipeline safety conference in New Orleans. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)

“The EPA makes clear that the completion of the northern segment of the KXL pipeline would be detrimental because the extraction, transport, refining and use of tar sands oil would result in an extreme increase of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, ” DaSilva said. “It is time to hold our government accountable for the EPA's findings. The extraction, transportation, refining and usage of tar sands needs to end now.”

Eleanor Fairchild, labeled an “eco-terrorist” by TransCanada after she and Daryl Hannah blocked land-clearing machinery on Fairchild's property in Winnsboro, Texas, sees President Obama’s veto as a victory.   “That they stopped even part of the pipeline is a win,” she told DeSmogBlog.

Eleanor Fairchild inspects the easement on her land in Winnsboro, Texas while TransCanada prepares to install the pipeline. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)Eleanor Fairchild inspects the easement on her land in Winnsboro, Texas while TransCanada prepares to install the pipeline. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)

Fairchild thinks President Obama should have put his foot down against the Keystone XL long ago.

“I don't like that Obama came and blessed the southern route of the project,” Fairchild said. But, she acknowledges, “the pipeline would have been built here anyway since Texas and Oklahoma had already approved it.” 

Fairchild takes comfort knowing TransCanada cannot transport as much tar sands through America as it wanted to, but doesn't think that will put a dent in curbing climate change. “We need to look at the bigger picture and stop all tar sands developments,” Fairchild said.

Obama’s main reason for vetoing the bill is that it came from Congress. In his memo to the Senate, the president made clear the approval process needs to go through the State Department. The president reserves the right to approve or reject the northern route of the Keystone XL.

Protesters in Austin, Texas February 17th, 2013 at the same time thousands rallied in Washington DC against Climate Change. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)Protesters in Austin, Texas February 17th, 2013 at the same time thousands rallied in Washington DC against Climate Change. (Photo: ©2013 Julie Dermansky)

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News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 12:24:00 -0500
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Climate Change Could Wipe an Alaskan Village Off the Map, and More http://truth-out.org/news/item/29414-on-the-news-with-thom-hartmann-climate-change-threatens-to-wipe-a-remote-alaskan-village-off-the-map-and-more http://truth-out.org/news/item/29414-on-the-news-with-thom-hartmann-climate-change-threatens-to-wipe-a-remote-alaskan-village-off-the-map-and-more

In today's On the News segment: Thanks to warmer temperatures and higher oceans, the people of Kivalina, Alaska, must move their entire town or be wiped out by storm surge; environmental groups say that we must keep pushing to keep Keystone from becoming reality; police can now generate an image of a suspect's face using only DNA left at the scene of a crime; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest of....science & green news.....

You need to know this. When he was elected, President Obama told us to push him. Well, it looks like we may have pushed hard enough when it comes to the Keystone XL pipeline. Last week, the president vetoed a Congressional bill that would have completed the construction of that pipeline. The veto was only the third of President Obama's six-years in office, and it is being celebrated by environmental groups and activists. However, those groups say that we must keep pushing to keep Keystone from becoming reality. May Boeve, the Executive Director of 350.org, said that the President's action is "conclusive proof that activism works." At a celebration outside of the White House she added, "After four years of rallies, marches, sit-ins, and civil disobedience, we're thrilled to see President Obama take an important first step by vetoing this love letter to Big Oil." But, the President's veto only stops Congress from trying to go around the State Department, which still holds the power to issue a permit for the pipeline. Annie Leonard of Greenpeace said, "The State Department needs to put the final nail in the coffin of Keystone XL, so we can focus on the real opportunity ahead: building America's new, clean energy economy." Tens of thousands of people – if not more – have been involved in the fight to stop the Keystone pipeline, and their protests, letters, actions, and even arrests likely pushed our president to issue this veto. We acted together to take on Big Oil, and we have achieved another victory in the war to protect our planet. Now, let's keep up the fight, keep the pressure on, and keep Keystone from being built once and for all.

We all know that constant stress in bad for our health, but until now, most of us couldn't explain why. According to a recent article in Science News Magazine, chronic stress causes lingering inflammation and so-called "genetic twists" that throw cells off of their normal, healthy course. Over time, those effects cause changed in our immune system, which actually make it harder for our body to heal. The article explains that our natural reaction to sudden stress can be a good thing, like a burst of hormones that we may experience when we're in danger. However, day-to-day stress makes our body release a steady stream of stress hormones that act like a poison. This is why issues like poverty, unemployment, recurring pain, or family tension actually make people sick, or make it harder for us to recover from an illness. Few of us have the ability to remove stress from our lives, but we can all improve how we deal with such situations. The science is clear, to stay healthy, we should all find a little time to chill out.

If you still have any doubts about climate change, perhaps you should take a visit to the remote Alaskan village of Kivalina. But, you may want to check in with that town to see if it's still in the same location. Thanks to warmer temperatures and higher oceans, the people of Kivalina must move their entire town or be wiped out by storm surge. That town lies on a tiny barrier island off Alaska's northwest coast, and it's home to about 400 residents. Kivalina has been populated since at least the mid-1800s, and it had been protected by sea ice, which prevented most storm surge from reaching the island. Back in the fall of 2004, residents realized that they were in big trouble when that sea ice hadn't yet formed, and since then it's been a race against time to move their community. The tiny whaling community has tried to figure out where to move and how to come up with the $100 million it's going to cost them. So far, their attempts have failed. Colleen Swan, who was born and raised in the tiny community, said, "We need to get off this island. We can't stay here. It's not an option anymore." Hopefully, the town can find answers to these tough questions, and find a new home before our planet gets any hotter.

Investigators are no longer limited when they don't have an eyewitness to a crime. According to a new piece in The New York Times, police can now generate an image of a suspect's face using only DNA left at the scene of a crime. While the sketches are not fool proof, genetics can already indicate hair and eye color, and may soon provide age, skin color, baldness, and other characteristics. Supporters of the new technology say that it could help solve crimes, opponents worry about the accuracy of DNA-based sketches, as well as privacy and profiling concerns. Erin Murphy, law professor at New York University, said, "This is another of these areas where the technology is ahead of the popular debate and discussion." She explained that this technology could completely dissolve "that firm boundary" of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches. Although it may seem like science fiction, this technology is here and it's time to have a debate about police analyzing our DNA.

And finally... Forget the soy, camel milk may be the next big thing for people who don't drink cow milk. According to EcoWatch.com, camel milk is low-fat, highly nutritious, and lactose-free. The Oasis Camel Dairy has been in business for about 15 years, but federal law prevents them from selling milk to the public. The farm survives by selling specialty products like soaps and lotions, but some Amish farms are able to sell milk to stores like Whole Foods. However, camel milk is probably too expensive to really catch on. Because camels are difficult to breed, and they don't produce much milk, you'll pay $18 a pint to give camel milk a try. That's pretty pricey for most Americans, but who knows what the cost would be if camel milk was subsidized like cow milk. For now, we'll have to take the word of camel farmers that camel milk is the next big thing. I'll stick to the hemp milk and skip both the cow and camel.

And that's the way it is for the week of March 2, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science & Green News.

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News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 11:39:30 -0500
Have You Told Your Colleagues You Are Not a Terrorist Today? http://truth-out.org/news/item/29413-have-you-told-your-colleagues-you-are-not-a-terrorist-today http://truth-out.org/news/item/29413-have-you-told-your-colleagues-you-are-not-a-terrorist-today

Cross-posted on Defense One.

Mary Ellen Callahan is not a terrorist. But her intelligence community colleagues routinely called her one because she tried to do her job as the chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security. In a recent interview, Callahan gives a personal account of the challenges she faced when trying to apply privacy protections to intelligence collection programs:

Intelligence officials have gone to great lengths to avoid public accountability. Under Director John Brennan, the CIA stonewalled and spied on congressional investigators examining its torture program, then threatened them with criminal prosecution. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper falsely denied that the NSA collects data on millions of Americans during testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. These are just two of many examples of deceptive behavior designed to resist democratic oversight of intelligence activities. Clapper has argued that his “least untruthful” response was necessitated by his obligation to protect the secrecy of the critical national security programs he was responsible for managing. The public needn’t worry about the lack of sunlight on intelligence activities, officials , because vigorous internal oversight mechanisms ensure that intelligence agencies do not abuse their authority.

So it is more than disheartening to hear that members of the intelligence community would act in such a childish and unprofessional manner toward a fellow government official assigned to conduct this difficult but critical duty of internal oversight. Callahan served as the chief privacy officer and chief freedom of information officer at DHS from March 2009 to August 2012, and held some of the highest security clearances our government offers. Her job was to examine DHS policies and review its performance to ensure that as DHS officials pursued their important missions, complied with their legal obligations to protect the privacy of those they interacted with, and provide public accountability. Fulfilling these requirements is not optional in a democratic society; it is an essential part of good governance for any agency. Yet for performing her duties, her colleagues regularly called her an agent of the enemy. This experience revealed troubling attitudes within the intelligence community regarding their attitudes toward the laws governing the behavior of its agents.

It should be no surprise that people working in national security have a tendency toward overzealousness. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned in 1928 that “the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.” The more crucial the mission and the greater secrecy in which it is carried out the greater the potential for abuse, even among the most well-intentioned workforce. This is the reason we have internal oversight mechanisms like privacy officers embedded within these intelligence and security agencies.

The DHS privacy office was created by statute, making it one of the most powerful in government. Callahan describes the scope of her work:

Yet even with the advantages her office held, her concerns for the proper resolution of privacy issues were met with disdain by officials so singularly focused on their anti-terrorism duties that they lost sight of other essential values they are bound to protect. It is one thing to vigorously pursue an important national security mission, but quite another to view constitutional limitations on government as a scheme of the enemy.

An example of an inter-agency struggle Callahan valiantly fought but lost was her attempt to resist amendments to the National Counterterrorism Center’s guidelines proposed by the attorney general and director of national intelligence. These new guidelines, which were implemented in 2012 despite Callahan’s protest, authorized the National Counterterrorism Center to ingest any federal government database wholesale, despite containing personal information of millions of people not suspected of any wrongdoing, if its director determined it might also contain some terrorism-related information. Callahan describes the problem with the intelligence community’s excessive information sharing practices.

Unfortunately, the unreasonable resistance Callahan faced performing internal oversight was not unique.

Clark Kent Ervin served as the first inspector general at DHS, from January 2003 until December 2004, when his recess appointment expired after the Senate Homeland Security Committee failed to schedule a confirmation hearing. Ervin had been the State Department inspector general the previous year, so he brought that experience plus a firm belief that independent oversight is essential to ensuring the success of Homeland Security’s mission. Ervin talks about the role of oversight in ensure intelligence programs are run within the law and in a way that protects our civil rights and liberties.

As he wrote in his book, Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Attack, Ervin recognized the difficult challenge DHS Secretary Tom Ridge faced in leading a new department cobbled together from existing parts. But he felt his responsibility as inspector general was to assist the DHS mission by ensuring that its programs and operations ran as effectively and efficiently as possible. His audits discovered serious deficiencies in port and aviation security, as well as waste, fraud and abuse in many other DHS programs. Rather than appreciate his identification of these security gaps, Ervin discovered that DHS management saw him as “a traitor and turncoat.”

In their interviews, Callahan and Ervin are both quite gracious in laying the blame on human nature, rather than the government officials who disparaged them. They point out that no one likes being criticized or having someone looking over their shoulder, so while the resistance they met was unfortunate, it was understandable. Instead, their frustration was one of principle — that their colleagues did not recognize the value that oversight measures add to their shared mission of providing the best and most cost effective security possible, while still complying with their legal obligations to protect privacy and civil liberties.

But identifiable weaknesses in human nature can, and should, be addressed through effective leadership. Ervin’s experience at the State Department, where Secretary Colin Powell embraced the inspector general’s role in securing public trust in foreign policy, stood in marked contrast to his experiences at DHS. Similarly, Callahan reported receiving strong support from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, which helped her win four of five internal battles she brought to Napolitano for resolution.

The open disdain that Clapper and Brennan display to their congressional overseers sets a poor example for the intelligence workforce. Their contempt for constitutional restraints ensures another generation of internal watchdogs will be maligned, rather than embraced as a necessary corrective to waste, error, and abuse.

For edited transcripts of the interviews of Mary Ellen Callahan and Clark Kent Ervin, click here.

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News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 11:11:59 -0500