Truthout Stories Sun, 23 Nov 2014 11:24:28 -0500 en-gb Efforts to Curb Destructive Palm Oil Plantations Brings Together Strange Bedfellows

Will corporations and activists join forces to end deforestation in Indonesia?

September brought good news for the world’s forests with the unveiling of the New York Declaration on Forests at the UN Climate Summit. The Declaration, which pledges to end global deforestation by 2030, was signed by 130 governments, including the US, Germany, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Perhaps most significantly, it was also backed by commitments from 40 major food corporations to eliminate palm oil grown on deforested land from their supply chains.

That’s a big deal, given that palm oil has been the single largest driver of tropical deforestation in recent years. When the medical establishment deemed trans-fats heart-unhealthy in the mid-1990s, demand for the supposedly more benign palm oil soared, increasing nearly six-fold since the year 2000. Palm oil is now used in nearly half of all foods on supermarket shelves, added to everything from breakfast cereals to margarine to potato chips. It is also an ingredient in shampoo, soaps, cosmetics, toothpaste, and laundry detergents, and is used as a feedstock for biofuels.

Palm oil is cheap. It is the highest yielding oil crop in the world, and the most abundant. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that every hour, an area of rainforest the size of 300 football fields is cleared to make way for new palm oil production — mainly in Indonesia, the country with the highest rate of deforestation in the world.

At this breakneck and still accelerating pace, 98 percent of the Indonesian rainforest will be gone by 2022, and along with it one of the greatest remaining biodiversity treasure troves on Earth. The palm oil boom has been a disaster for the orangutan, the Sumatran tiger, the clouded leopard, the pigmy elephant, and countless lesser known endangered species whose homelands are rapidly being converted to large-scale plantations.

It has also been catastrophic for the climate. Indonesia is currently the third largest carbon polluting country in the world, trailing only China and the US. Over 85 percent of the nation’s emissions come from forest destruction, which releases carbon stored in trees and ancient peatland swamps into the atmosphere. Once cleared, the peatlands dry out and are often set on fire, smoldering for months or even years, and transforming the greatest carbon sinks on the planet into leading carbon dioxide emitters. These fires were also responsible for the dangerous haze that caused work in Singapore and southern Malaysia to grind to a halt for weeks during June and July of 2013.

The group Forest Trends estimates that 80 percent of forest destruction in Indonesia between 2000 and 2012 was illegal, occurring outside the bounds of the concessions that the government has set aside for commercial development. Palm plantations were responsible for three-quarters of this illegal deforestation.

In 2007, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) launched a campaign to persuade Cargill — the largest exporter of palm oil into the US, and one of a handful of traders that dominate the industry — to stop buying oil grown on newly cut forests and peatlands. When Cargill refused to budge, RAN changed its strategy and began targeting the company’s clients, the so-called “snack food 20,” which includes corporations like Hershey’s, General Mills, and Kraft.

This new tactic paid off. Some of the high profile brands began demanding that their suppliers get serious about deforestation. And in September, Cargill announced a sweeping no-deforestation policy and endorsed the New York Declaration on Forests, joining other major palm oil traders including the Singapore-based Wilmar and the Indonesian company Golden Agri-Resources. The two leading pulp and paper companies in Indonesia, Asia Pacific Resources International Limited and Asian Pulp and Paper, have followed suit with their own commitments.

Over half of the “Snack Food 20” have also joined the no-deforestation pledge, including Mars, Nestle, Kellogg’s and Unilever. These companies have also agreed to drop suppliers who produce palm oil on stolen and misappropriated lands, or that use forced or child labor.

“The last few months have seen a welcome race to the top,” Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, said in a press release. “Consumers have sent companies a clear signal that they do not want their purchasing habits to drive deforestation and companies are responding.”

But there are still some notable holdouts. The food and beverage giant PepsiCo has not yet committed to protecting worker and community land rights. Kraft, Heinz, Nissin Foods, and Campbell’s Soup have offered no credible public commitment to change their palm oil procurement practices.  Malaysia-based commodity trader Kuala Lampur Kepong and Singapore-based Musim Mas have likewise refused to make commitments concerning palm oil practices.

Gemma Tillack, agribusiness campaign director at RAN, called on investors in these laggard companies to “put pressure on them to address these gaps.” In an interview, Tillack added that, even amongst the cooperating companies, “most still lack comprehensive, time-bound implementation plans.” They also have yet to develop credible grievance mechanisms to allow NGOs, labor groups, and indigenous communities in Indonesia to raise complaints when they observe instances of noncompliance.

Traceability will play a key role in implementing no-deforestation policies in Indonesia. Fortunately, Global Forest Watch (GFW), an online forest monitoring and support system, has used satellite imagery to create a multilayered, interactive map of Indonesia’s forest lands — a valuable tool for increasing transparency throughout the supply chain. Using this map, GFW is currently advising Unilever about which of its mills are more likely to be engaged in illegal activities like burning and deforestation; information that Unilever will then use to conduct investigations on the ground.

“We supply the data which companies use to better manage their supply chains, and NGOs use to look for violations and issues to focus on,” said Elizabeth Baer, GFW’s global commodities manager. “We think it’s amazing that advocacy has worked and driven these companies to make such ambitious commitments — the pace of change is unlike anything that I’ve seen before in my career. But it’s incredibly challenging for these companies to make good on their pledges within the time frame they’ve promised. So there is a lot of effort, a lot of resources and brainpower being poured in to help them do so.”

In addition to tracking developments on the ground, GFW is negotiating with both food corporations and NGOs to hammer out basic ground rules and definitions for the no-deforestation pledge — like what constitutes a “forest,” and how conflicts between all of the various stakeholders are to be adjudicated and resolved.

Some environmental groups remain wary of corporate motives, and plan to carefully monitor the developments on the ground in Indonesia to make sure that the public commitments don’t end up as exercises in “greenwashing and delay,” as one recent RAN blog put it.

The jury is still out on whether the New York Declaration on Forests will halt the bulldozers that are clearing Indonesia’s magnificent rainforest. Nevertheless, Tillack is guardedly hopeful: “In the last 12 months we’ve seen an unprecedented shift toward adopting responsible palm oil production standards. But the devil is in the details, and now it is time to put these commitments into action. We’ll be working hard to hold companies to account to insure that they are implementing their pledges.”

News Sun, 23 Nov 2014 10:55:58 -0500
How Did We Get Here? Reflections on the 2014 Midterms

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Democrats are paying heavily for their political failures - and for ditching the working stiff.

Dick Tuck, the legendary political prankster and wit, once ran for local office in San Francisco and lost. His concession speech, in its entirety: “The people have spoken — the bastards.”

Now, you know me — I wouldn’t say anything like that about the recent elections. It’s vulgar and I’m couth.

However, if the shoe fits…

Perhaps it’s safer to quote the Sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken, who said: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

The 2014 midterms were a Mencken moment.

It was a disaster for the Democratic Party, of course. They lost every election that was possible to lose and a few that weren’t. But it was an even greater disaster for the American people.

Statue of Free Enterprise, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil BendibStatue of Free Enterprise, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Faced with an onrushing manmade climate crisis, U.S. voters have now elected a congressional majority that denies global warming. (Did I mention that it’s also a majority financed by oil, gas, and coal money?)

Burdened with a reverse Robin Hood tax structure that robs the poor to give to the rich, voters elected the people who are most adamant that the rich, the richer, and (most of all) the richest be taxed lightly (if at all) lest they cease creating jobs.

Whether they create jobs or not.

Angered by the political gridlock in Washington, Americans not only reelected the leaders of the Republican obstructionist caucus, they substantially increased its numbers.

Frustrated by President Barack Obama’s inability to clear up the mess in the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and all that), they backed the party that made the mess in the first place and has yet to so much as apologize for it.

The result is that We the People find ourselves at the mercy of cynical manipulators joined at the hip with true-believing ignoramuses.

How did we get here?

I blame the Democrats for having lost their identity as a progressive party of the working stiff. The Democratic Party is instead…nothing at all. It’s a collection of political strands that pull in one direction and push in the other.

Moreover, it’s leaderless. Obama has his virtues — he’s bright and reasonable — but he’s an awful politician. He makes Jimmy Carter look like Lyndon Johnson.

Nothing makes this clearer than his treatment of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Essentially, he made a speech and let his crack federal bureaucracy handle the details.

To make a long story short, it didn’t work. The rollout was horrendously inept, and Obama did next to nothing to sell the plan to a confused public until it was too late.

Into the resulting vacuum the Republicans injected a never-ending barrage of vitriol. Without being very specific, they characterized the plan as an unparalleled disaster. And they did it on a daily basis. For two years or more, Republicans could hardly broach any subject — the war, the economy, the weather — without including a rant on the evils of making health care more widely available.

Regrettably, this demonization of health care carried the day, even though the plan overcame its early problems to become a success. Its flaws were exaggerated. Its virtues became secrets.

That’s a failure of political leadership, which Democrats paid for heavily.

There’s talk now in Washington of a new spirit of cooperation between the two major parties. This talk is generally between people who start drinking before noon.

For the past six years Republicans in Congress have done everything in their power to delegitimize President Obama. They’ve questioned his citizenship, his patriotism, his intelligence, and his religion. They did that while narrowly controlling one house of Congress.

To think that giving them full control of both chambers will make them kinder, gentler, and more amenable to compromise requires a leap of faith available only to saints and fools.

May God help the United States the next time we have to raise the debt limit.

Opinion Sun, 23 Nov 2014 09:48:08 -0500
Women Rising 26: A Ride on the People's Climate Train

In September of 2014, Women Rising radio rode the People's Climate train coast to coast, with over 200 activists heading to New York City to join the largest climate change march in history.


  • Valerie Love, Center for Biological Diversity, No Tar Sands Campaigner
  • Penny Opal Plant, Indigenous climate activist
  • Lauren Wood, Utah's Peaceful Uprising co-founder
  • Teresa Jimenez, Urban Tithe organizer
  • Shannon Biggs, Global Exchange Community Rights program director
  • Rosalind Harris, Global Climate Justice Alliance
  • Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director
  • Sister Santussika, Tony Sirna, Camille Herrera, Carrie, Riders on the People's Climate Train
  • People's Climate Train Singers
Opinion Sat, 22 Nov 2014 13:43:15 -0500
Arts Students Are Motivated More by Love of Subject Than Money or Future Careers

Science and engineering subjects are often presented as better career choices for students than the arts or humanities. Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, recently said that STEM subjects – sciences, technology, engineering and maths – unlock doors to all sorts of careers and that pupils who study maths to A Level earn 10% more over their lifetime.

Previous research has shown that there are actually lots of factors including ability, personality, motivation as well as family and educational background which impact on what undergraduate degree people take and their ongoing career success. And our new research has shown that the importance of the different types of motivation varies depending on the subject a student chooses.

Importance of motivation

When we are excited about something, whether it is a hobby or an interesting work-related task, we tend to perform better and apply a variety of creative approaches. If we are focused on a particular goal, we might be more organised and use a more structured approach in delivering the expected result.

This focus on an external goal, such as financial success, is known as "extrinsic" motivation, while enjoyment is known as "intrinsic" motivation. Both are very important for career success but in different ways. Extrinsic motivation leads to better performance, while intrinsic motivation to a deeper, more thorough way of learning.

Our new research shows that students studying for different degrees differ in their level of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. We asked a sample of 896 prospective students who attended open days and 989 current students at two large UK universities in the Russell Group the reasons for their degree choice. They were asked to rate how true statements such as: "I have chosen this degree because I was always interested in this subject" or: "I have chosen this degree because it provides good career options" were for them.

Different degrees, different reasons

We found differences in the reasons that students of certain subjects had for choosing their degrees, as the graph below shows. For example, current and prospective engineering students rated career options as a very important reason for their choice of degree, while interest in the subject was a low one. Yet arts and humanities students showed the opposite: prospective students reported enjoyment factor as important in their degree choice, while career was not as important on the agenda.

Both types of motivation are important to success on the career path, both in a person's degree and their future job. So it is necessary to have a goal to be successful in your career. It is also important to provide students with an opportunity to follow their intrinsic motivation to enjoy their studies because they will perform better at what they enjoy.

Restructure arts degrees

Careers are often judged by financial success – and not without a reason. And graduates from arts and humanities degrees seem to make less money than their STEM peers. For example, a 2011 report by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, puts most arts and humanities subjects at the bottom of the pay scale.

But perhaps the reason for that is not that those careers are a bad choice. If arts and humanities degrees attract people who are not career-driven, could that explain why they do not do as well financially in their career in the future? In order to make more money, you need to strive for that – it doesn't just come by itself.

If it is the case that arts and humanities students do not do as well financially because of low career aspirations, should we discourage them from choosing arts and humanities? Probably not – these degrees are where they might do the best – because they enjoy it. Instead, universities should provide them with more career focus in their undergraduate courses that can make those students more structured in achieving their career goals.

But we need to exercise caution in doing this. Previous research has shown that, in certain cases, external rewards such as being praised for being on top of your class actually undermine intrinsic motivation. This might lead to a "surface" type of learning where students are focusing on reproducing material accurately for a test without necessarily understanding it. If people start the degree because it is enjoyable and then are made to focus too much on external achievements, it might paradoxically make them enjoy the process of study less.

And if people are not that keen on what they are doing and just do it for the pay, they may be less likely to do a good job – or they might drop out if better-paid work opportunities arise. So the key is to let people choose what they enjoy – and then help them to make it into a career.

News Sat, 22 Nov 2014 13:07:38 -0500
The Poor Suffer From Hunger - Not the Munchies

Thanksgiving is an occasion when we gather with our families for festive meals. It's also a time when many of us donate to help the less fortunate celebrate with their families.

This holiday binds us all together: At least once a year, you should be able to sit around a table with your loved ones, enjoying turkey and mashed potatoes. If a bit of charity is needed to extend this joy to everyone, then many of us are glad to pitch in.

But how about the other 364 days of the year? What do the hungry do then?

Well, they better not be doing drugs, according to conservative governors like Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

This notion falls in line with the image of the so-called "welfare queen," a cruel stereotype of public assistance recipients based on just one woman — a criminal named Linda Taylor, whose illegal activities went far beyond simply welfare fraud. In fact, she was suspected of murder.

The typical face of public assistance probably looks a lot more like you — or me.

Back in 2006, I got a glowing review at work, followed by a raise. I bought a condo. But all too suddenly, my job situation changed for the worse, and I found myself unemployed.

I tightened my belt, of course — but I had a mortgage to pay. Unemployment insurance was a savior as I looked for a job and attempted to sell my home in a tough market. After a few months, I got back on my feet.

Years later, I tried to make a go of it as a freelance journalist. Financially, it didn't work out, even though I was working hard and getting published. I wanted to earn enough to live on — badly.

So I regrouped and applied to graduate school. But it took about a year between deciding to go to school and enrolling in a PhD program. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — the latest official name for food stamps — briefly helped me out through a rough patch in between. The meager $70 per month I received was a godsend.

During either period, had I wanted to use illegal drugs, I couldn't have afforded them. My money went to food, rent, and utilities, and almost nothing more. Even movies and haircuts were too luxurious for my budget.

That's exactly what the state of Florida found out during its brief stint drug-testing welfare recipients. Only 2.6 percent tested positive — far less than the 8 percent of Floridians overall who use illegal drugs. The testing program cost more money than it saved, and then it was struck down by the courts to boot.

In Utah, a similar program identified only a dozen users among welfare recipients.

These failed gotcha games haven't stopped other states from trying the same gimmick — including Georgia, Arizona, Alabama, Mississippi, and now Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker has proposed testing applicants for both unemployment benefits and food stamps.

I wish Walker would realize that very few people facing economic hardship have the luxury to dabble in drugs. If you're poor enough to qualify for food stamps, you're really poor. Even with food stamps, you're still having trouble making ends meet.

Also, nobody would ever be able to fill out the reams of paperwork required to get food stamps while high. It's a bureaucratic nightmare to qualify for any form of assistance. Sobriety is required — and maybe a caffeinated beverage.

Drug testing the poor wastes taxpayer money and only serves to stigmatize economic hardship. Mending the safety net makes more sense.

And we need a living wage so that fewer people who do work — including over half of all able-bodied adults who rely on food stamps — will require public assistance just to get by.

That might not fly with the new Republican majority in Congress. But it'll do a lot more good than donating a turkey once a year.

Opinion Sat, 22 Nov 2014 12:52:28 -0500
Want to See How Governments Are Making Real Progress? Look to the Cities Tackling Our Biggest Problems

A bike sharing rack on Dearborn street in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Esther Dyson)A bike sharing rack on Dearborn street in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Esther Dyson)

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If you've been looking to the federal government for action on big challenges such as poverty, climate change, and immigration, this has been a devastating decade. Big money's dominance of elections, obstructionism by the Tea Party, and climate denial have brought action in Washington to a near standstill. But while the media focuses on the gridlock, a more hopeful story is unfolding. Cities are taking action.

Climate change is a case in point. Cities are already experiencing the damage caused by an increasingly chaotic climate. Many are located along coastlines, where rising sea levels coupled with giant storms bring flooding and coastal erosion. Some low-lying areas are being abandoned.

Others cities face protracted water shortages due to diminishing rainfall and shrinking snowpack. And cities are subject to the urban heat island effect that can raise temperatures to lethal levels.
Cities can't afford to wait for the ideological wars to play out.

On Oct. 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast, flooding lower Manhattan, filling subway tunnels, twisting up the boardwalk along the beaches in the Rockaways, and turning Long Island and New Jersey communities into disaster zones.

Just two weeks later, Munich Re, a major insurance company, reported that weather-related disasters in North America had increased five-fold over the previous three decades, causing $1.06 trillion worth of damage. And the disasters are just starting, the report said.

While Congress debates whether climate change is a vast left-wing conspiracy, Houston is spending $200 million to restore wetland ecosystems in anticipation of increased flooding. The 4,000-acre Bayou Greenways project will absorb and cleanse floodwater while creating space for trails and outdoor recreation.

"Houston's best defense against extreme climate events and natural disasters is grounded in its local efforts to leverage ... its bayous, marshes and wetlands," Houston Mayor Annise Parker said in a press release.

In Philadelphia, if you look up while waiting for a bus, you might find you are standing under a living roof. Philadelphia is dealing with excessive storm water runoff by encouraging rain gardens, green roofs—large and small—and absorbent streets that allow water to soak through into the soil.

Given the threat posed by runaway climate change, one would expect ambitious national and international action to reduce greenhouse pollution. But cities are out in front, taking action to reduce their own climate impacts with or without federal support. From New York to Seattle, cities are adopting efficient building standards, taxing carbon, switching to energy-efficient street lighting, promoting local food, and financing building-scale conversion to solar energy.

Cities are responsible for a new surge in bicycling, not just on the crunchy West Coast, but in old industrial cities. In September, Bicycling Magazine named New York the number-one U.S. city for bicycling, noting its hundreds of miles of bike lanes, ambitious bike-share program, and long-term commitment to cycling. "One million more people will come to New York City by 2030, and there's simply going to be no more room for cars," Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the Department of Transportation, told Bicycling.

Chicago, named number two, is set to meet its goal of creating 100 miles of protected bike lanes by 2015, and it will soon have the nation's largest bike-share program.

These developments are in part thanks to enlightened city officials, including those looking for low-cost ways to attract young, entrepreneurial residents.

But cities are getting more bike-friendly in large part because of persistent pressure by activists. For more than 20 years, Critical Mass bike rides have taken over streets in more than 300 cities around the world, with large groups riding together and claiming the right to a safe ride.

A citizens' group in Minneapolis made the point about bike safety by building pop-up bicycle-only lanes, using DIY plywood planters to separate the bike riders from automobile traffic. Bicycle advocates in Atlanta, Denver, Oakland, Calif., Fargo, N.D., and Lawrence, Kans., followed suit.

These urban climate solutions are not only homegrown. Increasingly, cities are sharing their best climate innovations. In September, the mayors of Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Houston announced the Mayors National Climate Change Action Agenda. The initiative will be built on other urban collaborations, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, and the Urban Sustainability Directors Network.

Responsive to the poor and excluded

Cities are leading in other realms, too, where the federal government has failed to act.

Immigration reform is stalled at the national level. But Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Haven, Conn., and New York City are issuing identification cards to undocumented residents, allowing them to open bank accounts, sign leases, and access city services.

On issues of poverty and inequality, cities have a mixed track record. Some neglect poor and minority neighborhoods or steer polluting projects and noisy highways to those areas. Others promote policies that displace the most vulnerable residents, making desirable land available to the wealthy and well-connected. Some cities have even criminalized homelessness.

But in many cities, strong people's movements are electing leaders with a greater connection to the poor and middle class.

New York City, one of the most unequal cities in the country, is a case in point. The top 1 percent of New Yorkers took in 32.3 percent of the city's total personal income in 2009, according to the city's comptroller. The bottom 50 percent shared just 9.9 percent.

But organizations like the Working Families Party have spent years building a grassroots power base, and their work paid off when they helped elect Mayor Bill de Blasio in November 2013. Today, de Blasio is working to boost the minimum wage and is requiring developers to offer affordable housing. And thousands of new prekindergarten slots opened up this fall, with the goal of universal access to free pre-K.

Richmond, Calif., and Newark, N.J., also have progressive mayors elected in cities with strong popular movements. Both were hit hard by the foreclosure crisis and the predatory lending that especially targets poor people and people of color. And both cities are now exploring using eminent domain to reduce home mortgages to current market value and restructure loans so that current homeowners can retain ownership.

Seattle is leading the nation by raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour, following a successful grassroots initiative in the nearby city of Sea-Tac, and an insurgent city council race that focused on a higher minimum wage. Popular movements across the country are pressing for better pay and human rights for the working poor.

Why cities?

What is it about cities that enables them to move forward while the nation as a whole is stalled?

Benjamin Barber, political scientist and author of If Mayors Ruled the World, thinks a lot about what makes urban leaders effective problem solvers.

City leaders can't afford to be ideologues, Barber said in an interview with YES! Magazine. "Their job is to pick up the garbage, to keep the hospitals open, to assure fire and safety services and that police and teachers do their jobs."

This pragmatism requires civility. "Mayors simply can't afford to trade in bigotry," he said. "A businessman like [former New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg has to deal with the unions, and a progressive like de Blasio has to deal with business and developers."

Perhaps this focus on getting work done explains why nearly two-thirds of Americans polled by the Pew Research Center have a favorable view of their local government, at a time when just 28 percent approve of the federal government.

Along with pragmatism, cities have the advantage of multiculturalism and the innovative spark that goes with it, Barber says. "Cities are points of intersection, communication, sharing, and travel," he said. "And cities have always—to paraphrase Whitman—contained multitudes."

Nations, on the other hand, are a more recent idea, more oriented around independence than interdependence, and more competitive. "The last 400 years of nation-states ruling the world has gone very badly, with war, genocide, rivalry, and very little social justice as a consequence," Barber said.

Cities are solving problems while nation-states are failing, Barber said. So it's time to put cities in charge. Of the whole world.

Barber laid out a plan for a global parliament of mayors in his recent book, and now he's working with city officials on bringing the idea to reality.

Should cities rule the world?

Mention global governance, and some people imagine black helicopters. But Barber insists he is not proposing a top-down system. Instead he sees mayors and other city leaders reaching consensus on solutions and then bringing the policy ideas home. The result, he said, would be a sort of horizontal, pragmatic, noncoercive form of global governance.

Cities could agree on a universal minimum wage, for example. Such a move would remove incentives for companies to relocate to low-wage regions. Metropolitan regions are where most economic activity is happening, Barber said. So if enough cities agreed on a minimum wage, companies would just have to pay it, thus helping to alleviate poverty and inequality.

A first step in making this vision a reality is to incorporate the suburbs and central cities into metropolitan regions. Such a move would make sense for cities whether or not they rule the world. If Detroit, for example, were redefined to include the well-off suburbs, instead of being bankrupt, it would be the fourth most prosperous metropolitan region of the United States, Barber said.

From that foundation, cities could lead even in arenas like immigration that are not normally part of urban decision-making. If more cities begin issuing their own immigration documents, "you're going to have a fast track to citizenship inside cities, since 85 or 90 percent of undocumented workers are in cities," Barber said.

A global parliament of cities "is a means to regulate the global economy, address climate change, deal with immigration and global trade," he said.

It's a bold idea that is capturing the imagination of an international group of urban leaders. On Sept. 19, mayors, city planners, and others met in Amsterdam. If all goes as hoped, Barber said, 600 mayors could join him in London in September 2015 to launch a pilot parliament.

Not everyone thinks cities are up to the challenge. Following the Amsterdam meeting, Reinier de Graaf, a Dutch architect and city planner, wrote in European Magazine, "The current vitality of cities is largely based on the luxury that more heavy duty political responsibilities are kept at bay."

But British journalist Misha Glenny found the proposal intriguing. In a column for the BBC he wrote: "This group of can-do politicians may end up rewriting constitutions across the globe ... by doing what they always have—getting on with the job."

The idea is worth exploring when so much else isn't working, Barber said.

"In a time of pessimism about democracy, pessimism about government, a sense of too many problems, I believe the cities movement is a powerful note of hope and optimism," he told YES!

"Moving the focus from states to cities is a new brief for democracy," he said. "It's a new brief for hope. And a new sense that maybe we can, after all, control some of the forces that seem to be pushing us toward an unsustainable, unjust world, so we can move instead in the direction of the more sustainable and more just world."

Opinion Sat, 22 Nov 2014 10:57:25 -0500
Building a Racially Just Society: Psychological Insights

(Photo: Light Brigading)(Photo: Light Brigading)

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Authors Note. As three white psychologists, we offer this brief essay with the awareness that our perspective is necessarily limited by our lived experience as members of the privileged racial class. Through our many years of work as both psychologists and activists, we know first-hand how contentious and fraught racial justice discussions and efforts can be, even among colleagues and within organizations firmly committed to progressive social change. We share the essay below with the recognition that, to varying degrees, everyone is diminished by racism and racist institutions, and in the hope that this psychology-focused analysis may encourage constructive discussion and much needed action toward a racially just society.

This past August's police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teen, temporarily brought the attention of the entire nation to Ferguson, Missouri. The days and weeks that immediately followed witnessed prayer vigils; peaceful protests; sporadic episodes of minor violence and property damage; a heightened (and, in the eyes of many, overblown) law enforcement presence with armored trucks, riot gear, tear gas, and rubber bullets; a statement by President Obama from the White House; and a visit to the St. Louis suburb by Attorney General Eric Holder. Now, three months later, Ferguson residents wait anxiously for the anticipated announcement of whether a federal grand jury has indicted Darren Wilson, the white police officer who fired the gun that struck down Brown.

Whatever the outcome and immediate aftermath of those deliberations, Michael Brown's tragic death, the anguish of his family, and the turmoil within his community are all salient reminders that the United States is still far from being a racially just and equitable society.[1] These failings are broad and deep. They are reflected in the longstanding and seemingly intractable realities of unequal treatment, circumstance, and opportunity for African Americans – and for other communities of color. And they pose a difficult yet increasingly urgent challenge[2] – not only in regard to seeking justice for Michael Brown, but also in working to redress the widespread and daily harms associated with race-based inequities in law enforcement and other areas.

Deeply Disturbing Realities

The ugly and not-so-distant history of slavery, of post-emancipation Jim Crow laws and lynchings, and of legalized discrimination and segregation all cast a long shadow.[3] Indeed earlier this year a United Nations committee concluded that racial and ethnic discrimination – including police brutality – remain persistent and pervasive problems in the United States.[4] A half-century after the civil rights movement's hard-earned victories in the face of widespread repressive opposition, racial disparities continue to be striking and sobering.

African Americans live in poverty at rates almost three times those of whites;[5] this difference is even greater when specifically comparing the percentages of children living in areas of concentrated poverty.[6] White median household income is nearly double that of African Americans,[7] and the median wealth of white households is twenty times greater.[8] African Americans are unemployed at twice the rate of their white counterparts[9] and their life expectancy is approximately five years less.[10] Today, sixty years after the Supreme Court struck down "separate but equal" in Brown v. Board of Education, the early gains in the desegregation of U.S. schools have largely disappeared[11] and the racial gap in college graduation rates has not narrowed.[12]

Deeply troubling race-based imbalances are also present throughout our criminal justice system. Compared to white Americans, African Americans are much more likely to be the target of "stop and frisk" operations and related racial profiling tactics by law enforcement;[13] to be arrested for offenses such as selling illegal drugs (even though their white counterparts engage in comparable criminal activities just as often);[14] and to receive longer average prison sentences for identical offenses.[15] Altogether, African American men are incarcerated at rates more than six times greater than white men,[16] with one-third of all African American males likely to be imprisoned sometime during their lives. For white males the corresponding figure is only one in seventeen.[17]

These inequities persist at an institutional level even as explicitly racist beliefs and overtly racial discrimination have become increasingly taboo. Racial injustices remain closely related to economic and educational disadvantages, disadvantages that are disproportionately borne by African-Americans – largely because centuries-old institutions of racial oppression have not received sufficient structural redress. In our economic system, many African Americans and other people of color are denied desirable employment opportunities or even jobs that pay a living wage. In our education system, schools in deeply segregated urban neighborhoods are underfunded and overcrowded, and higher education is unaffordable for most students. Rather than increasing safety, zero tolerance policies have maintained and exacerbated a "school-to-prison pipeline" that ensnares a disproportionate number of young people of color.[18]

Psychological Influences

Psychology plays an important role in the social forces perpetuating individual and institutional racism. Because of the link between race and class, the psychological mechanisms that perpetuate class injustices also tend to perpetuate racial injustices. The widespread preference to see the world as just, for instance, leads people to embrace narratives that blame those who struggle with socioeconomic disadvantages – disproportionately people of color in the U.S.[19] – for their own plight. This perception then dampens the popular will to support a role for elected governments in setting reasonable minimum standards of economic rights, fostering a political culture that greatly harms working families of all races.

Other psychological mechanisms relatively independent of class also reinforce racist attitudes and actions. Negative cultural stereotypes of African Americans are pervasive and entrenched, in part because of a psychological inclination to unconsciously legitimize status quo disparities.[20] Even when these stereotypes are overtly rejected, they often persist at the level of implicit biases, which by definition are "activated involuntarily, unconsciously, and without one's awareness or intentional control."[21] These biases not only serve as the foundation for intentional expressions of prejudice and racial violence but also for unintended yet harmful micro-aggressions,[22] which often cast African Americans as deserving of fear, distrust, and disrespect. Too often, inaccurate and biased news reports and media portrayals further serve to reinforce perceived differences of the racial "other." At the same time, stresses associated with disproportionate suffering from class injustices, with being treated as "second-class" citizens, and with being targets of discrimination increase the likelihood of negative physical and psychological health outcomes for African American children and adults.[23][24][25]

The structural racism that permeates our society is also both a product of and a contributor to other deep-seated and largely unconscious individual psychological processes such as moral disengagement and moral exclusion. Members of one group don't just adopt stereotypes and prejudices and engage in hostile and discriminatory ways against members of another group. They often also develop ways of reasoning that allow them to behave harmfully towards members of the other group without feeling guilt or shame. Mechanisms of moral disengagement such as dehumanizing the other, blaming victims for one's aggression against them, minimizing the consequences of one's harmful behaviors, or reframing harm in a positive light (e.g., freeing a community of its dangerous elements) allow people to behave inhumanely and still view themselves as moral individuals.[26] Moral exclusion is a related set of cognitive processes whereby members of other groups are viewed as belonging outside the prevailing scope of justice. In this way they are deemed as appropriately excludable from concerns with moral and human rights considerations, and as not deserving of protections from a wide variety of harms, ranging from deprivation and exploitation to genocide.[27]

Meanwhile, so-called "colorblindness"[28] – often proposed as a solution to racial injustice – can, in practice, make people of color "invisible" and contribute to maintaining existing racial inequities by overlooking or denying structural injustices and the pervasive unearned advantages and privileges[29] typically afforded to those who are white[30] in the United States. Not surprisingly, given that white Americans have the privilege of shutting themselves off from the realities of racial inequality, a large gulf exists between African Americans and white Americans in perceptions of the extent to which equal justice prevails in the United States today.[31] And while white Americans tend to emphasize how much better off African Americans are now than they once were, African Americans are more inclined to focus on how much further we still need to go to achieve racial equality.[32]

Paths to Progress

It is within this social, political, and psychological context that we believe the outrage and despair engendered by manifestations of racial injustice are best understood. Conquering the racism and racial inequities so deeply embedded in U.S. history and institutions will require serious and sustained commitment by individuals, organizations, communities, and our nation as a whole.[33] That commitment will need to be multifaceted: to listen deeply to the experience of those who suffer most from racism and racial injustice; to learn about and acknowledge our own individual and collective contributions to maintaining the oppression of racism in all its societal manifestations; to be open to transforming our understanding of the system of racism and what keeps it in place; and to be ready to make choices in many aspects of our lives that will help reduce racism and racial injustice.

At the individual level, learning more about the hardships, abuses, accomplishments, and resilience that characterize the long struggle against racial injustice can provide a pathway to better understanding the current circumstances, adversities, and structural violence that need to be overcome.[34] Working to recognize and transcend our own biases is also essential; for some, this may begin by participating in challenging conversations about race, even when those interactions are uncomfortable. It is also important for all of us – including those in positions of influence and advantage – to demonstrate solidarity with the direct victims of racial injustice through concrete engagement in advocacy and other forms of collaboration.

In many workplaces and volunteer organizations, there is a need for a stronger commitment to specific actions aimed at increasing diversity and promoting respect for differences, especially in the ranks of leadership. Where appropriate, public service and other organizations – including police departments[35] – should adopt training programs that demonstrate how contemporary racism operates, including how implicit bias works and how it might be consciously overridden. Policies and procedures assuring that instances of workplace racism and discrimination are recognized, taken seriously, and addressed directly should be instituted as well. In some contexts, sustained, dialogue-driven learning opportunities can be more effective than strictly punitive responses in reducing racist and discriminatory behavior and building a culture of acceptance and mutual respect. In our schools, teachers and other educators should receive support[36] in developing the skills and educational materials necessary to make both historical and contemporary racial injustice an integral part of the curriculum and restorative justice a first option when disciplinary problems arise.

When law enforcement personnel kill unarmed black teenagers or commit other violence that punctuates the daily oppression suffered in African American communities, they should be held accountable. To the extent that attempts to enforce this accountability fall short, as they too often do, there are other ways to lay the foundation for more just interactions in the future. Community-wide restorative dialogue initiatives can be effective in establishing trust and connection when one party has inflicted violence on another. Independent of criminal proceedings, these approaches create conditions where all those impacted have an opportunity to express themselves fully and honestly in a way that others can truly hear and understand. While some types of harm inflict individual and collective wounds that are irreparable, such interventions can interrupt the cycle of violence, turn destructive anger into constructive energy, and lead to both individual and community healing and significant structural reforms, including in policing practices and policies.[37]

As a nation, we must all commit to joining together to transform the entrenched systems that, almost invisibly at times, obstruct progress toward racial equality. Toward that end, genuine intercultural, pluralistic living – rooted in horizontal, intentional, and cooperative engagement – can help to further foster respect and empathy across boundaries that too often divide people from each other. But fifty years after the Civil Rights Act was signed and Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize, it is clear that much work remains to be done. The urgency is undeniable. Building a more racially just society is the shared responsibility of all of us.

The authors wish to thank Derek Allen, Jamaal Bell, Trudy Bond, Amira N. Davis, Marilyn Glater, Ian Hansen, Brian Jones, Leslie King, Kimberly E. Walker, and Lawanda Wallace for valuable discussions and editing assistance.

A PDF version of this essay is available.



[2] We use the term "African American" as a way to both acknowledge the unique history of trauma and oppression experienced by individuals who were taken from Africa and brought to America as slaves and highlight the continued disparities and inequalities faced by generations descending from this population. Our linguistic choice is not intended to suggest that we value any less the histories, perspectives, and contributions of those who prefer to self-identify differently. As well, we recognize that other people of color and members of marginalized groups are also disproportionately subject to mistreatment in the United States.




























[30] There are also privileges associated with many other characteristics, including being male, being Christian, being heterosexual, and being able-bodied, but our focus here is on race.






[36] Ideally, this support would be in the form of ongoing, in-person learning and consultation with a racially and ideologically diverse group of community members and scholars.


Opinion Sat, 22 Nov 2014 09:26:18 -0500
Dividing the Spoils

We’ve been watching Congress since the mid-term elections and reading Zephyr Teachout’s terrific history book, Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United. That snuff box was a gift from King Louis XVI of France. His Majesty was a good friend of the American Revolution but when he gave Benjamin Franklin the gold box, featuring the monarch’s portrait surrounded with diamonds, some of our Founding Fathers objected. They worried that the gift would corrupt his judgment and unduly bias Franklin in France’s favor.

The framers debated the meaning of corruption at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and Americans have been arguing about it ever since. Today, gifts to politicians that were once called graft or bribes are called contributions. The Supreme Court has granted corporations the rights our founders reserved for people, and told those corporations they can give just about anything they want to elect politicians favorable to their interests. Diamond and gold snuff boxes are as outmoded as the king’s powdered wig. Now we’re talking cash — millions upon millions of dollars. Quadrupled, quintupled and then some – and it’s not considered corruption.

Consider the new report from the watchdog Sunlight Foundation: From 2007 to 2012, the two hundred most politically active corporations in the United States spent almost $6 billion for lobbying and campaign contributions. And they received more than $4 trillion in US government contracts and other forms of assistance. That’s $760 for every dollar spent on influence, a stunning return on investment.

Peter Overby at National Public Radio reported that “Military contractors lead the list of contract recipients, and they hover in the upper ranks of companies with the biggest campaign contributions.” Raytheon, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin – all of them made hefty political donations to Republican campaigns. Not coincidentally, this year the Pentagon is due to spend $163 billion on research, development and procurement.

Then look at who’s expected to be the new Republican chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee – Thad Cochran of Mississippi. Breathlessly, The Washington Post writes, “This could mean additional funding for the Navy to modernize its fleet and potentially benefit contractors such as shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls.” Guess what company describes itself as “the largest manufacturing employer in Mississippi and a major contributor to the economic growth of the state,” not to mention a major contributor this year to Thad Cochran’s re-election campaign? Why, shiver our timbers, it’s Huntington Ingalls.

“The other dominant corporate sector is finance,” Overby said. “Some of the country’s biggest financial institutions — Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and others — are the top recipients of federal aid. That’s because it cost so much to rescue the financial sector after the 2008 market crash.”

Throw in the health insurers, media and telecommunications, retailers, Big Pharma – no wonder Washington’s K Street is lobbying’s road to Paradise. But it runs in both directions. NPR’s Overby talked with political scientist David Primo, who thinks Congress may be spending more time studying The Godfather than Robert’s Rules of Order. Primo told him, “The conventional wisdom out there is that businesses are going to Washington, writing checks and expecting big returns. But the other side of the story is that members of Congress may implicitly threaten businesses that if they don’t change their policy, or if they are not heavily involved in the political process, that bad things might happen to them.”

It’s not personal, Sonny, it’s strictly business. Our government has become a clearing house for corporations and plutocrats whose dollars grease the wheels for lucrative contracts and easy regulation. It’s all pay for play, and look the other way. Partisans of the system say, hey, it’s just business as usual, but that, of course, is the problem. We were struck by this headline in The Washington Post after the November elections: “Parties head back to Capitol to begin carving up spoils, remains from midterms.” Right: Not only leadership posts and committee chairmanships, but carving, dividing up the spoils also means divvying up the loot. And those contributions were not made for the sake of charity.

Once upon a time the GOP stood for Grand Old Party — now it stands for Guardians of Privilege, and this is payback time for everything from fracking to getting the big banks off the hook; from doing away with the minimum wage and coddling off-shore corporate tax avoiders to privatizing Medicare and Social Security; to gutting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Environmental Protection Agency, even the US Postal Service.

And that’s just for starters. House Speaker John Boehner, his majority now greater than ever, will govern as you might expect from the man who once handed out checks from the tobacco industry to members on the floor. And Mitch McConnell, finally in his ascendancy as Senate Majority Leader, will manipulate more powerfully than ever the Capitol Hill and K Street mechanisms that he has mastered – helped along by the clever placement of loyal former staff members in positions of influence. They assist him in the dispensation of favors to donors from on high. “We’re very excited,” one Republican lobbyist told the Post, the understatement of the century.

Democrats, meanwhile, are so compromised by their own addiction to Big Money they have forgotten their history as champion of the working stiff, the little folks down there at the bottom. The great problems facing everyday people in America – inequality, stagnant wages, children in poverty, our degraded infrastructure and stressed environment — are not being seriously addressed because the political class is afraid to offend the people who write the checks — the corporations and the rich. Everyone else can be safely ignored.

Watch this weeks show with Lawrence Lessig and Zephyr Teachout on “How Public Power Can Defeat Plutocrats.”

Opinion Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:54:03 -0500
From Hottest October to Coldest November, Is Climate Change Behind the Extreme Weather?

Record cold temperatures have been recorded across the country this week. The most extreme weather is hitting western New York, where at least seven people have died. At least six feet of snow has already fallen on parts of Buffalo, and another two to three feet is expected today. Tuesday was the coldest November morning in the country since 1976. Temperatures dropped below freezing in every state including parts of Hawaii on Tuesday and Wednesday. This comes just days after NASA reported last month was the warmest October on record. We look at the link between extreme weather and climate change with Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to extreme weather. Last week, the news was about the record heat. According to NASA, last month was the warmest October ever recorded across the globe. This week, much of the United States is experiencing record cold. Tuesday was the coldest November morning in the country since 1976. Temperatures dropped below freezing in every state including parts of Hawaii on Tuesday and Wednesday. The most extreme weather is hitting the western New York city of Buffalo.

CNN REPORTER: Buffaloans are used to snow, but this storm dumped over five feet in some spots, almost an entire season’s snowfall in 24 hours. And more is on the way.

WIVB REPORTER: And it’s just a mess here in South Buffalo here on South Park and 10th. You can see there’s a big rig behind me and dozens of cars that have been stranded for more than a day.

GINGER ZEE: Yeah, take a look at this: five feet of snow in 36 hours in upstate New York. That was so much weight, it broke the door down—boom!

BRIAN WILLIAMS: It’s a weather emergency making news, a bitterly cold night in store for most people in this country. Officially as of this morning, temperatures were below freezing at least somewhere in all 50 states. And yes, that includes Hawaii.

AMY GOODMAN: In Buffalo, New York, six to seven feet of snow; another two to three feet could fall today in areas that have already received massive amounts, unprecedented. At least seven deaths in western New York have been blamed so far on the snow.

To talk more about this week’s extreme weather, we’re joined by Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate. His most recent post is called "Global Warming Is Probably Boosting Lake-Effect Snows."

Eric, welcome to Democracy Now! How?

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Hi, thanks. Well, the science says that this is another example of extreme weather and how climate change is affecting it. In this case, the Great Lakes are, since I think the year—since the 1970s, have decreased their ice cover by about 70 percent. So, all that extra open water in the wintertime is giving more chance for things like lake-effect snow to form.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain actually what’s happening across the country, and particularly in western New York, upstate in Buffalo? How is this happening, especially in areas where you can have seven feet of snow, and right next door, two inches?

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Sure, yeah. Well, lake-effect snow is a very intense, narrow band that forms off the lake. If you get a persistent wind over warm water with cold air above, that makes it an extremely unstable atmosphere. And what happens is it turns into basically a thunderstorm of snow, and it falls right over that same area for hours and hours on end. And that’s what happened this week.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain how weather relates to climate change right now.

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Sure. Well, climate change is boosting the amount of energy that’s available in the atmosphere, in general, by heating the atmosphere, retrapping the sun’s incoming energy, and then that kind of gives an extra boost into these kind of weather systems. So when you’re talking about—when you’re talking about drought or extreme precipitation, in general, what climate change will do will make the wet days wetter, and it will make the dry periods more dry. So, again, this lake-effect snow is one example of that.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the backlash against what you’re writing? You faced this right-wing backlash on Twitter after your article came out in Slate on Wednesday. One user tweeted, "Got trapped in Buffalo by a blizzard in the late 70s. Back then it was evidence of global cooling." Another said, "Lake-effect snow is new?? You are a fool and a tool." This isn’t the first time you’ve faced criticism from the right wing for speaking out about climate change. Last year, you wrote about how the latest U.N. climate report brought you to tears and inspired you to resolve to give up air travel. This was how Greg Gutfeld of Fox News reacted.

GREG GUTFELD: The guy’s a kook. Someone should tell him that planes are better than driving, as their nitrous oxide causes cooling by ridding methane in the air. But hey, he says he’s the expert. In what? Beta mail sniveling?

AMY GOODMAN: Eric Holthaus, why do you think your scientific conclusions have inspired such a backlash?

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Well, I think the real only reason to deny the changes that are happening in the atmosphere right now because of humans is political at this point. So, people are motivated by a worldview that doesn’t allow for things like humans changing the weather. So, that’s how I explain it, personally.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, the weather is blanketing the airwaves, to say the least—as it should be, because people are—it is so extreme, what is taking place across the country—in Hawaii, below freezing. You know, in Buffalo, not only did they face seven feet of snow in some areas, but two to three feet more possibly coming today, and then flooding when it warms over the weekend. They don’t even have the equipment that can move the snow.

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Sure, yeah, I think the football team, the Buffalo Bills, called for volunteers yesterday to scoop out the stadium, because I think one of my fellow meteorologists calculated that it would be something like eight-person years of time that it would take to scoop out that snow, like 200,000 tons of snow or something, that fell in that stadium.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet we’re on target for being the warmest, the hottest year on record. Is that right? Still?

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Yes, it’s still accurate. We have—six of the last 10 months have been the warmest such month on record. I’m going back to the late 1800s, so—but we have evidence from tree rings and from ice cores going back several thousand years that show that it’s been—this is the warmest year in that entire stretch of time. So, just because we have a snowstorm here, it does not—definitely does not mean that climate change is somehow not happening.

AMY GOODMAN: All four seasons were experienced in one week, you write in a recent post?

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Yeah. Well, it felt that way, definitely. So, we’re right in the middle of fall. So, on the East Coast, in New York, in New York City, was almost peak fall time this weekend, and we had a tornado outbreak in the Southeast, as that snowstorm moved to the Northeast. And on the West Coast, we’re having a Santa Ana wind event, which it tends to boost the chances of wildfire. And in southern Florida, there were record highs at the same time record lows were being felt in the Midwest. So, it was definitely quite an extreme week this week as far as weather.

AMY GOODMAN: And to those who say record cold makes a mockery of global warming?

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Sure, well, again, you have to remember that we’re just one patch of land on this huge planet. So, even though the United States is cold right now, actually, on Tuesday, the same day that all 50 states hit a freezing temperature, the Northern Hemisphere as a whole was about almost a full degree Celsius above normal. So, just because the cold pattern is happening here doesn’t mean it’s happening everywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it would be accurate if the meteorologists on television, instead of just flashing the two words "severe weather" or "extreme weather," also flashed "climate change" or "global warming"? How do you think that would affect people’s perceptions of what we could do?

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Well, I think it would be more scientifically accurate. I mean, I think, like I said earlier, the only reason not to talk about climate change anymore is, I think, political. So, to be true to the science, we can find a link for extreme weather events almost all around the country or around the world right now. The amount that it’s measurable is somewhat up for debate. So, for example, for this lake-effect snow, snow seasons in western New York are pretty variable, so it’s really hard to pull out that pattern or that signal of global warming. But the science has shown that it’s there. So, I think to talk about the science in a way that reflects how climate change is affecting weather patterns, I think that’s the honest path, as far as science.

AMY GOODMAN: Eric Holthaus, I want to thank you for being with us, speaking to us from Viroqua, Wisconsin. Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate. We’ll link to your most recent post, "Global Warming Is Probably Boosting Lake-Effect Snows." We’ll link to it at

When we come back, the story of a—well, he started as a young man, at the age of 18—how he went to jail for taking the tools his father bequeathed him after his dad died. How is it possible that 34 years later he remains in jail—his name is Mark DeFriest in Florida—27 of those 34 years in solitary? Stay with us.

News Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:43:15 -0500
Obama's Action Marks Historic Victory for Immigrant Rights, but Activists Warn of a Long Way to Go

In a prime-time speech Thursday night, President Obama outlined his plan to take executive action granting temporary legal status to up to 5 million undocumented immigrants, protecting them from deportation. Under the plan, undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents will be allowed to temporarily remain in the country and work legally if they have lived in the United States for at least five years and pass a background check. But the new plan will not provide relief to the parents of undocumented children, even those who qualified for deferred action in 2012. The executive order will also not provide undocumented immigrants any formal, lasting legal status. Many will receive work permits, which will give them Social Security numbers and the ability to work under their own names. But they will have to reapply after three years. We get analysis from Democracy Now! co-host and New York Daily News columnist Juan González, who watched the speech with a large group of undocumented immigrants Thursday night. We are also joined from Seattle by a family team of activists: Maru Mora Villapando, an activist and undocumented immigrant with the group Latino Advocacy, and her daughter, Josefina Mora, a U.S. citizen.


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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In a prime-time speech Thursday night, President Obama outlined his plan to take executive action to grant temporary legal status to up to five million undocumented immigrants, protecting them from deportation.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic or the Pacific or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like or what our last names are or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal: that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.

AMY GOODMAN: Under the plan, undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents will be allowed to temporarily remain in the country and work legally if they’ve lived in the United States for at least five years and pass a background check. But the new plan will not provide relief to the parents of undocumented children, even those who qualified for deferred action in 2012. Immigrant rights groups held gatherings across the country last night to watch the president’s speech.

Juan, you were at one of those gatherings in Queens. Where were you? Who was there?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, in Jackson Heights on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, Make the Road New York, a very influential immigrant rights group, a grassroots organization here in this city, held a viewing party. The place was jammed, over 200 people crowding every single room with about a half dozen television sets. But to me, the most important part of it was not just the president’s speech, but the people giving testimony beforehand, talking in really emotional terms about the deportations that had torn apart families, the struggles that they had had coming to this country, being here 15, 20, 25 years without any kind of legal status. It was really an emotional night as they prepared to hear the president give his presentation.

And, of course, this—we’ve got to take this in context. It was nine years ago next month when the infamous Sensenbrenner bill was passed in the House of Representatives that would make it a felony for you to be in the country illegally or for anyone to assist an undocumented immigrant. And that is really what touched off this modern human rights movement, that we know as the immigrant rights movement, in a massive way, because by that spring millions of people had poured into the streets of all the major cities in the country. And everything that’s gone on since then has been a reaction to this whole new grassroots human rights movement of the immigrant community in the United States.

So this was a historic moment here, a culmination of that, although it’s—as everyone said in the speeches last night, there’s a long way yet to go, because this temporary resolution is just that, a temporary resolution. And in fact, it will be six months before any of the parents of undocumented immigrants can actually apply for legal status. And so that the Republicans in Congress, a new Republican majority has basically a six-month window, as Congressman Luis Gutiérrez said, to finally do something, rather than just complain and whine about what the president has done now.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go back to President Obama’s speech Thursday night.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now, here’s the thing. We expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect that those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal. If you have been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes, you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Obama last night in this historic address. I want to bring into this conversation two guests from Seattle, Washington, a mother and her daughter. Maru Mora Villalpando is an activist and undocumented Immigrant with the group Latino Advocacy. And we’re joined by her daughter, Josefina Mora. She is a U.S. citizen.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Because Josefina is a U.S. citizen, that means that you, too, will become a U.S. citizen—is that right—under President Obama’s plans?

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: Good morning. Well, under this plan, I only get to be here for three years without being deported, and I could apply for a work permit. But that doesn’t put me in the path to legal permanent residence and then the path to citizenship. This is just a temporary relief. This is not permanent. It’s not really immigration status whatsoever. It’s very similar to what was granted to the childhood arrivals, the famous DACA.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And when you hear that already some of the Republicans in Congress are threatening to go to court, and some Republican governors are saying they will fight in their local states against providing work permits or providing driver’s licenses under the president’s executive order, what’s your response?

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: Well, it’s not surprising. I think that Republicans have been really good at showing that they’re anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-poor, anti-children. So when we fought for this incredible victory of ours, when we decided to shut down ICE, to put ourselves at risk of arrest and deportation, when the hunger strikers decided to call the attention of the world the detention center in Tacoma by putting themselves on risk, and their lives and their health, we knew that our target was the president, Obama, and we knew we were right. Obviously, we knew that whatever he does will be challenged by the Republicans, because that’s all they’ve been doing throughout all these years is challenging all his work.

So, what we are going to do is to continue fighting, not only to keep what we have right now—which is very little, but it’s a step—but also to expand it, to make sure that others are included, because the Not One More campaign, that’s what it’s about, is to stop all deportations. And most importantly is to make it permanent, not only a three-year program that will be renewed, but who knows what will happen if another president comes in? We cannot be relying anymore on politics and allow politicians to use us anymore as their political ball to play with.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Josefina Mora, one of the things that the president mentioned is that he plans to eliminate the Secure Communities program and replace it with a new program that would target much more those undocumented immigrants who are felons. Could you talk about how Secure Communities has affected the many Latino communities across the country?

JOSEFINA MORA: Yeah, so, Secure Communities has really implemented more dividing families, not only because it allows local enforcement to work with ICE, but also because even if these people don’t have—aren’t charged with anything, they’re going to be—they have an ICE holder on them, and they can at any time be taken by ICE. So, many of the cases that we’ve worked with, many of the people that I know, have been affected by Secure Communities. And that’s actually, I think, the biggest thing that has leaded to detention, is Secure Communities.

And although he, Obama, announced that he was going to end it, he said that he was going to ramp up more enforcement for those who do not qualify for this. So that puts people who do not qualify for this in even more danger than they were before. And, you know, really, that’s—although he’s granting temporary relief, he’s still making it a little bit worse for people who will not qualify. And although I’m lucky that my mom qualifies for this, I’m worried for people like me who actually are not citizens, my counterparts, who will be even in more fear than I am right now for my mom. They will be in more fear for their parents in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Josefina, how old are you?


AMY GOODMAN: You know, I think your view is reflected by the satirical newspaper The Onion. It’s headline captured many critics’ disappointment, saying, "5 Million Illegal Immigrants to Realize Dreams of Having Deportation Deferred." Republicans, though, say President Obama has overstepped his constitutional power by acting on his own. This is House Speaker John Boehner.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: Instead of working together to fix our broken immigration system, the president says he’s acting on his own. That’s just not how our democracy works. The president has said before that he’s not king and he’s not an emperor. But he’s sure acting like one. And he’s doing it at a time when the American people want nothing more than for us to work together.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re going to go back to our guests right now in Seattle, in Seattle, Washington. How are you, Josefina, going to organize? And, Maru Mora Villalpando, how will you be organizing at this point, because this is a period where decisions will be made as the Senate becomes Republican?

JOSEFINA MORA: Well, you know, I have always organized with my mom. I kind of have followed her wherever I’ve gone—wherever she’s gone, since I was about three years old. So, whatever she does, I will support her, and I will follow her, and I will do whatever I can in my school and in my community for people my age who do not—are not informed about the issue to really get involved and to really use, especially my white friends, to use their white privilege and their power to really influence decisions that are made in the future. And I hope to even in the future run for political office so that I can help in some small way to change this broken system, even though it’s changing, but very, very, very, very slowly. So, hopefully in the future, I’ll be able to help change that.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting that President Obama is flying right now to Nevada. IN Nevada, it’s something like 17, 18 percent of kids have at least one parent who is undocumented, and I think in the state something like 8 percent of the whole population is undocumented. That’s where he will be making his announcement again, following two years ago where he was in Las Vegas, as well. Maru Mora Villalpando, your response?

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: Yeah, absolutely. I think that he is trying to sell this. And that’s the way he sounded last night: very apologetic. I think he just played with the rhetoric that the Republicans have used all this time.

For us, when reading the details of his action, of his executive action, it shows that now more than ever he made it really easy for us to know how we’re going to organize. We’re going to organize those that are left behind. We’re going to organize those that are going to be drafted into the military because there will be no route for them into any status. We’re going to work with those that will be targeted by this different program, just with a different name, but it’s really the same program—the PEP instead of the Secure Communities program. We’re going to work with border communities, including here in Washington state, that will see even more militarized border. We will continue working in addressing—pushing for the addressing of the roots of migration and the political stand and economic stand that the U.S. has portrayed throughout our countries that has really been the one that pushed us to this point of having to migrate. So, for us, the work at the detention center will continue more than ever, because it’s really—it’s really sad that those that organized the hunger strike, that those that put themselves on the line inside, are not going to benefit from this executive action. So, really, for us, the work just begun.

AMY GOODMAN: Maru Mora Villalpando, I want to thank you for being with us. And, you know, we last talked to you when you were protesting the immigration detention center in Washington. In Texas, a new 2,400-bed family detention center is set to open this December in Dilley, Texas. Josefina Mora, we also want to thank you for being with us. Again, Josefina is 17. She’s a U.S. citizen, so her mother, Maru Mora Villalpando, will qualify for the—under the executive order. This is Democracy Now! We’re going to continue on the issue of immigration and also the mass protests that are taking place in Mexico. We’ll talk to a leader of the New Sanctuary Movement. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Triste Bufon, "Canción de Protesta," "Protest Song." This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. And we’re going to link to Juan’s column in the New York Daily News today, having just come last night from a big gathering in Queens, New York, of hundreds of people—the headline, "Obama’s Immigration Actions are Bittersweet for Some."

News Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:38:02 -0500