Truthout Stories Mon, 25 May 2015 11:26:53 -0400 en-gb Bernie Sanders Takes It to Wall Street With Financial Transactions Tax

2015.5.25.Sanders.mainSen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who recently announced he is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 6, 2015. (Photo: Zach Gibson/The New York Times)

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Last week Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont and only announced challenger to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, took a strong stand for everyday people. He proposed a financial transactions tax (FTT), effectively a Wall Street sales tax, and to use the revenue to make public colleges tuition free.

While making college affordable to low and middle income families is important, the proposal for an FTT is a real game changer. There is no single policy that would have anywhere near as much impact in reforming the financial sector. A FTT would effectively impose a sales tax on stocks and other financial assets, so that speculators have to pay a tax on their trades, just like people who buy shoes or clothes.

There are three points people should understand about a FTT. The first is that it can raise an enormous amount of money. A FTT could be imposed at different rates. Sanders proposed following the rate structure in a bill put forward by Minneapolis Congressman Keith Ellison. Eleven countries in the European Union are working to implement a set of FTTs that would tax stock trades at a rate of 0.1 percent and trades of most derivative instruments at the rate of 0.01 percent.

Extrapolating from a recent analysis of the European proposal, a comparable tax in the United States would raise more than $130 billion a year or more than $1.5 trillion over the next decade. This is real money; it dwarfs the sums that have dominated most budget debates in recent years. For example, the Republicans had been trying to push through cuts to the food stamp program of $40 billion over the course of a decade. The sum that can be raised by this FTT proposal is more than thirty times as large. The revenue from a FTT could go far toward rebuilding the infrastructure, improving the health care system, or paying for college tuition, as suggested by Senator Sanders.

The second point is that Wall Street will bear almost the entire cost of the tax. The financial industry is surely already paying for studies showing the tax will wipe out the 401(k)s held by middle income families. This is nonsense. Not only is the size of the tax small for anyone not flipping stock on a daily basis, research indicates that most investors will largely offset the cost of the tax by trading less. 

Most research shows that trading volume falls roughly in proportion to the increase in transaction costs. This means that if a FTT doubles the cost of trading then the volume of trading will fall by roughly 50 percent, leaving total trading costs unchanged. Investors will pay twice as much on each trade, but have half as many trades. Since investors don’t on average make money on trades (one side might win, but the other loses), this is a wash for the investor.

While most middle income people don’t directly trade the money in their retirement accounts, they do have people who manage these funds. The research means that the fund managers will reduce their trading, so that the total costs of transactions that are passed on to the investor remain roughly constant. This means that the financial industry will bear almost the entire cost of the tax in the form of reduced trading volume.

This gets to the last point: a smaller financial industry is a more efficient financial industry. The purpose of the financial industry is to allocate money from savers to companies that want to finance new investment. As the industry has exploded in size over the last four decades there is no reason to believe that it has gotten better in serving this basic function. In fact, the stock bubble at the end of the 1990s and the housing bubble in the last decade might suggest that it has gotten worse.

A study from the Bank of International Settlements and more recent research from the International Monetary Fund find that a bloated financial sector slows growth. An oversized financial sector pulls resources away from more productive sectors of the economy. People who could be engaged in biological research or developing clean technologies are instead employed on Wall Street designing computer programs to beat other traders by a microsecond to garner profits at their expense. A FTT will make much of this activity unprofitable, encouraging people to turn to more productive work.

In short, a FTT is a great way to raise large amounts of money to meet important public needs. It will come almost entirely at the expense of the financial industry and should strengthen the economy. We now have one presidential candidate who is prepared to support a strong FTT. Are there others?

News Mon, 25 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
"Incommunicado" Forever: Gitmo Detainee's Case Stalled for 2,477 Days and Counting

Even though the torture was over, Abu Zubaydah's ordeal was just beginning. For nearly a decade, he's been shuttled around the world and held in legal limbo - even as hundreds of detainees have been transferred or released.

2015.5.25.Gitmo.mainUS Army Military Police escort a detainee to his cell in Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during in-processing to the temporary detention facility on January 11, 2002. (Photo: Mate 1st Class Shane T. McCoy via Wikimedia Commons)

Since being seized in a raid in Pakistan in 2002, Abu Zubaydah has had his life controlled by American officials, first at secret sites, where he was tortured, and since 2006 in a small cell in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And, thanks to one of the strangest, and perhaps most troubling, legal cases to grow out of the War on Terror, it appears he’s not going to be leaving anytime soon—which was exactly the plan the CIA always wanted. Not even his lawyers understand what’s transpired behind closed doors in a Washington, D.C., courtroom.

In June of 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that detainees at Guantanamo had the right to challenge their imprisonment in federal court and that their cases should be handled “promptly’’ by the judicial system. The next month, lawyers for Abu Zubaydah, a detainee whose torture and waterboarding in secret prisons was among the most notorious of the Bush years, filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging his detention.

The progress of that case has been anything but prompt. While more than 100 Guantanamo detainees have been released since then, and the military tribunals of even more high-profile detainees like 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are moving forward in Guantanamo’s courtrooms, the federal judge hearing Zubaydah’s case has failed to rule on even the preliminary motions.

The seemingly intentional inaction has left even experienced court observers baffled. Richard W. Roberts, the U.S. District court judge handling the suit, is not a particularly slow-moving judge. His median time for resolving entire cases is slightly over two years; Zubaydah’s initial plea has already been pending 6 years 9 months and 12 days.

Because the entire file has been kept secret, it’s not possible to know why Roberts, who is the chief judge of the D.C. circuit, has let Zubaydah’s case languish. But this much is clear: Keeping Zubaydah from telling his story is exactly what the CIA wanted from the moment it began to torture him. And it’s exactly what they promised they’d do in 2002 during one of the darkest chapters of the War on Terror. (He was one of the first al-Qaeda suspects to face the harsh new regime implemented by the CIA following 9/11—a regime that FBI agents at the scene tried to prevent.)

Soon after the agency’s contractors began their program of “enhanced interrogation’’ at the secret black site in Thailand – placing him in a coffin-size box; slamming him against wall; depriving him of sleep; bombarding him with loud music; as well as waterboarding – they sent an encrypted cable to Washington.

The CIA interrogators said that if Zubaydah died during questioning, his body would be cremated. But if he survived the ordeal, the interrogators wanted assurances that he would “remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life.”

Senior officials gave the assurances. Zubaydah, a Saudi citizen, “will never be placed in a situation where he has any significant contact with others and/or has the opportunity to be released,” the head of the CIA’s ALEC Station, the code name of the Washington-based unit hunting Osama bin Laden, replied. “All major players are in concurrence,” the cable said, that he “should remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life.”

The decision to hold Zubaydah “incommunicado’’ was disclosed by the Senate report on torture, which was released last December. But the judicial inaction on his case has received virtually no public attention.

In all, Roberts has failed to rule on 16 motions, 13 of which have been filed by Zubaydah’s lawyers. Several of those allege misconduct by the government.

Roberts’ judicial inaction runs the gamut: Zubaydah’s motion for an un-redacted copy of his own diary, which the government seized, has sat for six years without any ruling by the judge. His habeas corpus petition was sealed at the request of the government. Zubaydah’s lawyers filed to have it declassified. It remains classified.

A lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been at the forefront of lawsuits to gain the release of Guantanamo detainees, says he has been baffled by the judge’s inaction. “It appears to be highly unusual,” says the lawyer, J. Wells Dixon, who has represented several Guantanamo detainees, but is not involved in the Zubaydah case. In contrast to Zubaydah’s case, Dixon said that 64 Guantanamo detainees who filed habeas petitions have seen their cases adjudicated.

Rooted in English common law, the principle of habeas corpus is a cornerstone of the American legal system. In England, it served as a check on the king’s power to lock someone in the dungeon and throw away the key. Dixon noted that the Supreme Court has said habeas was designed to be a “swift and imperative remedy.”

Yet Judge Roberts appears content to let Zubaydah’s case languish. Compared to his handling of other cases, the jurist has been anything but “swift” in Zubaydah’s case. For cases he closed in 2014, the median time from filing was 751 days, according to data assembled for ProPublica by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization at Syracuse University. The longest any closed case had been on his docket was 1,651 days, according to TRAC. Zubaydah’s case has been pending for some 2,400 days, and it will be years before it goes to trial, if it ever does.

There are few answers for why Zubaydah’s case has gone so far off track — and there’s nothing in Roberts’ background or recent behavior on the bench that would make him seem incapable of ruling if he desired. He was appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton in 1998 and has a fairly typical background for a federal judge: A Columbia law school grad, he rose through the ranks of the Department of Justice, working as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York and as principal assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. He later spent three years as the chief of the criminal section at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Absent the apparently intentional aberration of the Zubaydah case, his court docket proceeds as normal in Courtroom 9 on the fourth floor of the U.S. District Courthouse on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

A spokeswoman for the federal district court declined to comment on the case.

One possible clue about the judge’s failure to act may be found in a motion Zubaydah’s lawyers filed in 2010. They asked Roberts for access to any “ex parte filings,” which is evidence the government shows the court outside the presence of the other side’s lawyers.

In other cases involving detainees, secret prisons, watch lists and challenges to domestic spying, the Justice Department has attempted to win dismissals by presenting classified evidence to judges in the secrecy of their chambers.

A rare insight into how that tactic is deployed was made public by a federal judge in San Francisco in a lawsuit by a Malaysian woman who challenged her placement on the no-fly list. The government sought to dismiss the case on the grounds of national security. In a ruling on the motion, the judge, William H. Alsup, described what happened next: “A telephone call came into the court staff saying that a federal agent was on the way from Washington to San Francisco to show the judge confidential records about this case, all to be relied upon by the government in support of its motion to dismiss (but not to be disclosed to the other side). The officer would take back the records after the judge reviewed them and would leave no record behind of what he had shown the judge.”

In that case, Alsup declined to receive the officials, although he did receive other ex parte filings in the case.

It’s not clear whether Judge Roberts has received a comparable offer, and if so, how he reacted. But it’s unlikely that if such a meeting or meetings happened, the public would ever know—and likely that not even Zubaydah’s own lawyers would know about it, unless Roberts came forward as Alsup did.

Although the case is an infamous one, it’s worth recalling the details of Abu Zubaydah’s custody in U.S. hands.

He was captured in a joint Pakistani-CIA-FBI operation in Lahore, Pakistan, in March 2002, during which he was shot in the groin, leg and stomach. Severely wounded, Zubaydah lingered near death as the CIA, which wanted him alive for interrogation, flew in a top surgeon from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Later, Zubaydah was handcuffed, hooded, drugged and flown to Thailand, where the CIA was in the process of creating one of its first “black sites.” Initially interviewed by the FBI, Zubaydah cooperated. FBI Special Agents Ali Soufan and Steve Gaudin even held ice to his lips so he could receive fluids. Zubaydah told the agents that Khalid Sheik Mohammad was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and gave them further detailed information about him, including his alias—the news ricocheted across Washington and Zubaydah became a pawn in the capital’s power tussle between the FBI and the CIA.

CIA Director George Tenet wasn’t satisfied with the progress on the interrogation. The agency was convinced that Zubaydah knew more, that he was a high-level al-Qaeda operative, and that he was withholding information about pending terrorist plots. Thus, Zubaydah became the guinea pig for what the Bush Administration called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The FBI pulled its agents out of Thailand as the CIA’s plans for the prisoner became clear—but not before the agents got one final useful tip: Zubaydah pointed them to a name “Abu Abdullah al Mujahir” that eventually led agents to José Padilla, a would-be jihadist who was arrested in Chicago on May 8, 2002.

Meanwhile, the CIA started in on Zubaydah. For 47 days, he was held in complete isolation, with only a towel. Then, shortly before noon on August 4, 2002, hooded security personnel entered his cell, shackled and hooded him, and removed his towel, leaving him naked. “So it begins,” a medical officer in Thailand cabled CIA headquarters about the first day’s session.

Interrogators placed a towel around his neck, as a collar, and slammed him against a concrete wall. They removed his hood and had him watch while a coffin-like box was brought into the cell. The waterboarding started, “after large box, walling, and small box periods,” the medical officer reported. “NO useful information so far.” He added, “I am head[ing] back for a waterboard session.” During the waterboarding Zubaydah frequently vomited, made “hysterical pleas,” and experienced “involuntary leg, chest and arm spasms.”

After a few days, some of the individuals involved in Zubaydah’s interrogation were deeply disturbed, to the “point of tears and choking up,” the team cabled Washington.

Over the course of the interrogations, Zubaydah “cried,” he “begged,” he “pleaded,” he “whimpered,” the team in Thailand reported to headquarters in various cables. But he never gave the CIA information about plans for attacks in the United States. And in the end, the CIA “concluded that Abu Zubaydah had been truthful and that he did not possess any new terrorist threat information,” the Senate torture report says. He was not even a member of al-Qaeda.

Yet even though the torture was over, Zubaydah’s ordeal was just beginning. For nearly a decade, he’s been shuttled around the world and held in legal limbo—even as hundreds of detainees have been transferred or released and court cases have moved forward for other suspected terrorists at Guantanamo.

After the first media reports appeared about a CIA secret prison in Thailand, Zubaydah was moved to a secret site in Poland. A year ago, the European court of human rights ruled that Poland had been complicit with the United States in subjecting Zubaydah to “inhuman and degrading treatment,” and ordered Poland to pay him reparations. After losing an appeal, Poland paid Zubaydah 100,000 Euros, which Zubaydah has said he will give to victims of torture.

Zubaydah, who was transferred from Poland to Guantanamo Bay in 2006, has not fared well with the American judicial system even as his lawyers have attempted to nudge the case forward to a conclusion.

Much of the case remains wrapped in secrecy, meaning that his lawyers are unable to discuss or elaborate upon much of their work or knowledge of the case. Glimpses into it, though, are possible through the languishing court filings. Zubaydah’s lawyers have filed two motions that raise questions about the government’s conduct in the case. In 2010, they sought an “order prohibiting the government from obstructing petitioner’s investigation.” The court hasn’t ruled, and we don’t know what might have prompted this request because the documents are sealed. Similarly, three years ago, Zubaydah’s lawyers asked for sanctions against the government because of what they said was “the improper seizure” of documents “subject to the attorney-client privilege.” Again, Judge Roberts has yet to rule.

Frustrated by the inaction in the case, Zubaydah’s lawyers filed a motion in January asking the judge to recuse himself for “nonfeasance.” It is an unusual motion. Judges are occasionally asked to recuse themselves because of conflicts of interest or bias, but not for simply failing to act. The government has filed its response, which is sealed, and the judge—perhaps not surprisingly, given the track record thus far—has not yet ruled.

“We don’t take this step lightly,” said Joseph Margulies, one of Zubaydah’s lawyers. Margulies, an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has represented several Guantanamo detainees and is a professor at Cornell University School of Law, added, “I have never seen a case in which there has been this much judicial inaction. There has to be a remedy.”

But there may not be. If Judge Roberts “ignores Abu Zubaydah’s case, there is very little we can do,” said Margulies. “The net effect is that the CIA wins.”

News Mon, 25 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
A Fossil-Fueled Fantasy

Extracting coal from the ground and disposing of its toxic byproducts makes a dirty mess no matter how it's burned. But this "clean coal" ruse is conjuring up billions of dollars in government subsidies. Burning the dregs from spent oil wells releases yet more carbon into the atmosphere, stoking climate change.

2015.5.25.Greco.mainZigging and Zagging Down a Slippery Slope, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

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Newfangled carbon-capture power plants supposedly burn coal without poisoning the planet. They don’t.

Extracting coal from the ground and disposing of its toxic byproducts makes a dirty mess no matter how it’s burned. But this “clean coal” ruse is conjuring up billions of dollars in government subsidies.

Take the 110-megawatt Boundary Dam plant in Canada’s Saskatchewan province, the world’s first carbon-capture operation. It cost $1.2 billion to get it switched on last year. That’s several times the price tag for a standard coal-fired plant or building a wind farm or utility-scale solar project capable of generating the same amount of energy — enough to power 100,000 homes.

Going with wind or solar would have produced zero emissions without burning any fuel, reducing environmental and monetary costs down the line.

Another carbon-capture boondoggle is slated to open next year on this side of the Canadian border: Southern Co.’s Kemper County plant in Mississippi. It’s an even bigger cautionary tale.

Kemper’s construction costs have tripled to more than $6 billion since crews first broke ground in 2010. The project is more than two years behind schedule and in trouble. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in February that the locals were unfairly shouldering cost overruns via higher electric bills.

“The ratepayers’ property (money) is being confiscated through governmental decree, by a rate increase imposed by a privately owned corporation,” the court’s majority declared, ordering Southern to issue refunds. The company has, naturally, requested a new hearing.

Other efforts to build or retrofit existing power plants to use these new systems face similarly grim prospects.

The Obama administration wisely let a $1 billion commitment to complete the long-delayed FutureGen carbon-capture plant in central Illinois lapse a few months ago. The canceled government money came from 2009 stimulus funds that expire in September.

Still, the federal government has injected $6 billion into carbon-capture coal to date. And President Barack Obama’s proposed 2016 budget calls for wasting another $2 billion in tax credits on this pipe dream.

Lawmakers backed by Big Fossil aren’t giving up on this corporate welfare either. Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, both Democrats, just introduced bills that would direct the federal government to squander more money on carbon-capture systems.

Burning coal with this new twist will “reduce electricity costs for all of us,” Heitkamp asserted.

Really? She should check out what the Energy Department says: Carbon-capture coal technology jacks up costs by up to 80 percent and can render power plants as much as 30 percent less efficient.

Gasification, another pricey new way to burn coal, is equally futile. Just ask the ratepayers forced to subsidize Duke Energy’s costly experiment with it at the troubled Edwardsport coal plant in Knox County, Indiana. Or check out the predictable cascade of lawsuits over there.

Perhaps the most damning thing about this racket is what happens to the trapped carbon itself. Utilities may sell it to oil companies, which use the stuff to pry lingering barrels of petroleum from tapped-out oil wells.

The Border Dam plant in Saskatchewan is selling carbon sucked out of that pioneering, over-priced, and supposedly “clean” coal-fired power plant to the Cenovus oil company, which uses it to extract a fossil fuel that would otherwise stay in the ground.

This aftermarket defrays some of the money spent sequestering carbon. It also generates emissions that render the process no cleaner than equipping coal-fired power plants with modern filters, scrubbers, and other gizmos.

Burning the dregs from spent oil wells releases yet more carbon into the atmosphere, stoking climate change. If that doesn’t bother you, maybe pondering the possibility that injecting the carbon dioxide deep underground may trigger earthquakes will.

Opinion Mon, 25 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Hijacking the Anthropocene

How the anti-green Breakthrough Institute misrepresents science to advance a technocratic agenda and undermine grassroots environmentalism.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone,
“it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
—Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

What can lobbyists do when science contradicts their political messages? Some simply deny the science, as many conservatives do with climate change. Others pretend to embrace the science, while ignoring or purging the disagreeable content. That’s what the Breakthrough Institute (BTI) is doing with one of the most widely discussed issues in 21st century science, the proposal to define a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene.

BTI has been described as “the leading big money, anti-green, pro-nuclear think tank in the United States, dedicated to propagandizing capitalist technological-investment ‘solutions’ to climate change.”[1] Founded in 2003 by lobbyist Michael Shellenberger and pollster Ted Nordhaus, its philosophy is based on what’s known in academic circles as ecological modernization theory – described by Richard York and Eugene Rosa as the view that “industrialization, technological development, economic growth, and capitalism are not only potentially compatible with ecological sustainability but also may be key drivers of environmental reform.”[2]

In BTI’s simplified pop version, to which they’ve assigned catchier label ecomodernism, there is no “may” about it – their literature consistently couples a professed concern for the environment with rejection of actual pro-environmental policies, on the grounds that new technology, growth and capitalism are the only solution to all environmental concerns.

Most notably, BTI opposes efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, claiming that investment in nuclear reactors and shale gas will produce all the energy we need, and global warming will wither away as a side-effect. “The best way to move forward on climate policy,” write Shellenberger and Nordhaus, “is to not focus on climate at all.”[3]

As Australian environmentalist Clive Hamilton comments, BTI’s founders “do not deny global warming; instead they skate over the top of it, insisting that whatever limits and tipping points the Earth system might throw up, human technology and ingenuity will transcend them.”[4]

In 2004, Shellenberger and Nordhaus wrote a notorious pamphlet, The Death of Environmentalism. That title wasn’t an announcement – it was a goal. They declared their conviction “that modern environmentalism … must die so that something new can live.”[5] Their organization has worked to achieve that death ever since.

Bill Blackwater has exposed the “self-contradictions, simplistic fantasy, and the sheer insubstantiality” of BTI’s thought, and John Bellamy Foster has shown that ecological modernization theory involves “a dangerous and irresponsible case of technological hubris [and] a fateful concession to capitalism’s almost unlimited destructive powers.”[6] In this article I examine one specific feature of BTI’s current activity: its attempt to hijack the Anthropocene, to misrepresent one of the most important scientific developments of our time so that it seems to serve Breakthrough’s anti-environmental agenda.

Scientists define the Anthropocene

For scientists, the arrival of a new geological epoch signifies that there has been a qualitative change in the Earth System. For 12,000 years we have been in the Holocene epoch, but we now face conditions that are as different from that as the Holocene was from the ice age Pleistocene that preceded it. Paul Crutzen, the Nobel Prize winner who first suggested that such a change had occurred, and Will Steffen, former director of the International Geophysical-Biophysical Program, write:

“The Earth System has recently moved well outside the range of natural variability exhibited over at least the last half million years. The nature of changes now occurring simultaneously in the Earth System, their magnitudes and rates of change, are unprecedented and unsustainable.”[7]

The name Anthropocene, from the Greek anthropos, meaning human being, was proposed to emphasize that the new epoch is driven by a radical change in humanity’s relationship with the rest of the Earth System – that “global-scale social and economic processes are now becoming significant features in the functioning of the system.”[8]

The shift began with the growing use of fossil fuels in the Industrial Revolution, and went into overdrive in the “Great Acceleration” of economic activity, pollution and environmental destruction in the second half of the 20th century. Now human activity is “overwhelming the great forces of nature,” to the point that if “the institutions and economic system that have driven the Great Acceleration continue to dominate human affairs … [then] collapse of modern, globalized society under uncontrollable environmental change is one possible outcome.”[9]

Foster describes the Anthropocene as “both a description of a new burden falling on humanity and a recognition of an immense crisis – a potential terminal event in geological evolution that could destroy the world as we know it.”[10] Similarly, the editors of Nature say it “reflects a grim reality on the ground, and it provides a powerful framework for considering global change and how to manage it.”[11]

By contrast, Nordhaus and Shellenberger want us to believe that everything’s going to be just fine. They tell the world that “by 2100, nearly all of us will be prosperous enough to live healthy, free and creative lives.” All we need to do is “once and for all embrace human power, technology, and the larger process of modernization.”[12]

Foolish environmentalists may “warn that degrading nonhuman natures will undermine the basis for human civilization but history has shown the opposite: the degradation of nonhuman environments has made us rich.” Environmental problems are merely unfortunate side-effects of developments that are fundamentally positive for humanity: “the solution to the unintended consequences of modernity is, and always has been, more modernity.”[13]

Hijacking a word, misrepresenting science

Given the huge difference in views, it would have been appropriate and honest for BTI to declare how and why it disagrees with the scientists who have identified profound changes in the Earth System and are proposing to declare a new epoch.

Instead, when the word Anthropocene started appearing frequently in academic journals and mainstream media, Nordhaus and Shellenberger jumped on the bandwagon and tried to steer it in a direction more congenial to their views. In contrast to scientists they deem to be depressing, pessimistic, and catastrophist, they declared that the Anthropocene isn’t a crisis, it’s an opportunity to build a global technological utopia, in which humanity embraces nuclear power and shale gas, and we all enjoy US-style consumerism forever.

What they offer is a homeopathically diluted Anthropocene, in which the only remaining trace of Earth System science is the fact that the Earth is dominated by human activity – and even that, BTI insists, is neither a recent development or a matter for concern.

Nordhaus and Shellenberger gave the game away in an article they wrote for Orion magazine and then reprinted in a BTI-published e-book. After agreeing that humans are “rapidly transforming nonhuman nature at a pace not seen for many hundreds of millions of years,” they wrote:

“But the difference between the new ecological crises and the ways in which humans and even prehumans have shaped nonhuman nature for tens of thousands of years is one of scope and scale, not kind.”[14]

Read that again. If it’s true, then there is no case for declaring a new epoch. There has been no qualitative change, so we are still in the Holocene, still doing what humans have always done, since long before the ice sheets retreated.

Landscape ecologist Erle Ellis, a Breakthrough Institute Senior Fellow, has been arguing for the “scope and scale, not kind” view in the Anthropocene Working Group, the international committee that is evaluating the proposal for a new geological epoch. He supports an early Anthropocene – the view that the Anthropocene began not recently but thousands of years ago, when humans first made large-scale changes to landscapes and ecosystems.

Official endorsement of an early date would strengthen the Nordhaus/Shellenberger claim that there is no qualitative break between current and past human impacts on the Earth. As Clive Hamilton and Jacques Grinevald write, the early Anthropocene option justifies a business-as-usual understanding of the present.

“It ‘gradualizes’ the new epoch so that it is no longer a rupture due principally to the burning of fossil fuels but a creeping phenomenon due to the incremental spread of human influence over the landscape. This misconstrues the suddenness, severity, duration and irreversibility of the Anthropocene leading to a serious underestimation and mischaracterization of the kind of human response necessary to slow its onset and ameliorate its impacts.”[15]

BTI’s website describes Ellis as “a leading theorist of what scientists increasingly describe as the Anthropocene,”[16] but doesn’t mention that his early Anthropocene position, while compatible with BTI’s philosophy, has little support among the other scientists involved.

In January 2015, over two-thirds of the Anthropocene Working Group’s 38 members endorsed 1945 as the beginning of the Anthropocene, both because the Great Acceleration is an historical turning point, and because it can be located in geological strata by the presence of radiation from nuclear fallout. The early Anthropocene argument, they write, unduly emphasizes just one aspect of the case for a new epoch:

“The significance of the Anthropocene lies not so much in seeing within it the ‘first traces of our species’ (i.e. an anthropocentric perspective upon geology), but in the scale, significance and longevity of change (that happens to be currently human-driven) to the Earth system.”[17]

The AWG hasn’t formally decided yet, but Ellis, who evidently believes he has lost the debate, recently told an editor of the journal Nature that he opposes making any official decision. “We should set a time, perhaps 1,000 years from now, in which we would officially investigate this…. Making a decision before that would be premature.”[18] That would allow BTI to continue misusing the word, but he seems to have little support: a recent article in Science, proposing to “avoid the confinement imposed by a single formal designation” has only four signatures, and of them, only Ellis is a member of the AWG.[19]

Oxymoron alert

Breakthrough has invited influential environmental writers to a luxury California resort in June, all expenses paid, for a two-day seminar on “The Good Anthropocene.”[20] So don’t be surprised if articles using that oxymoron appear in the mainstream media this summer. Phrases like “unprecedented and unsustainable” will not be emphasized, if they appear at all.

The seminar’s message was revealed in April, in An Ecomodernist Manifesto, signed by Nordhaus and Shellenberger and 16 others, all closely associated with BTI. Subtitled From the death of environmentalism to the birth of ecomodernism, it is self-described as “an affirmative and optimistic vision for a future in which we can have universal human development, freedom, and more nature through continued technological and social modernization.”[21]

The manifesto extends the oxymoron, promising “a good, or even great, Anthropocene” if only we will reject the “long-standing environmental ideal … that human societies must harmonize with nature to avoid economic and ecological collapse.”

Yes, you read that right. BTI’s pseudo-Anthropocene requires deliberately expanding the metabolic rift between humanity and the rest of nature into a permanent chasm. After all, “humans have remade the world for millennia,” so more of the same must be good.

A striking feature of all BTI propaganda is the gulf between the concrete problems they admit exist and what Bill Blackwater calls “the daydream quality of their positive solutions.”[22] That is clearly on display in their Ecomodernist Manifesto, which proposes to solve the pressing problem of climate change with “next-generation solar, advanced nuclear fission and nuclear fusion” – technologies that don’t exist and won’t soon arrive. In the meantime, BTI proposes reliance on hydroelectric dams, which can cause major environmental problems, and on carbon capture and storage, which doesn’t exist in any practical form.

Clearly, BTI’s “Good Anthropocene” won’t arrive before the climate and other essential elements of the Earth System reach tipping points. As Blackwater says, BTI’s purported realism is actually “the very height of fantasy,” a contemporary form of what C. Wright Mills used to call “crackpot realism.”

It’s time to defog

The pundits, politicians and CEOs whose interests are served by the Breakthrough Institute don’t want to be identified with the science deniers of the far right, but neither do they want the radical measures that responding to the real Anthropocene requires. BTI’s fantasy of a Good Anthropocene builds the illusion that both objectives are easily achieved. Don’t worry, be happy – technological ingenuity will save capitalism from itself.

BTI could have avoided mentioning the Anthropocene, but that would have left a widely discussed concept unchallenged, posing the possibility that public understanding of the state of the Earth System will grow, strengthening the environmentalism that BTI wants to kill. It’s far more effective to appropriate the word, to sow confusion by promoting a caricature that has nothing to do with the actual Anthropocene and everything to do with preserving the status quo.

There can be no question about which side the left is on in this conflict. We may not endorse every element of the Anthropocene project, but we must not allow Earth System science to be hijacked and misused by enemies of the environment.

As Dipesh Chakrabarty writes, the scientists whose work BTI is trying to undermine “are not necessarily anticapitalist scholars, and yet clearly they are not for business-as-usual capitalism either.”[23] Many are adopting more radical views as they study what’s happening to the Earth System. It’s our responsibility to help them blow away Breakthrough’s fog of confusion, and work with them to stop capitalism’s drive to ecological disaster.



[1]Notes from the Editors” Monthly Review 66, No. 2 (June 2011).

[2] Richard York and Eugene A. Rosa. “Key Challenges to Ecological Modernization Theory.” Organization & Environment 16 No. 3, September 2003

[3]Statement on ‘Climate Pragmatism’ from BTI Founders Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus.’” Breakthrough Institute, July 27, 2011.

[4] Clive Hamilton. “The New Environmentalism Will Lead Us to Disaster.” Scientific American Forum, June 19, 2014.

[5] Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus. The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World. Oakland, Breakthrough Institute, 2004.10

[6] Bill Blackwater. “The Denialism of Progressive Environmentalists.” Monthly Review 64, No. 2 (June 2012). John Bellamy Foster. “The Planetary Rift and the New Human Exemptionalism.” Organization & Environment 25 No. 3 (September 2012)

[7] Paul J. Crutzen and Will Steffen. “How Long Have We Been In The Anthropocene Era? An Editorial Comment.” Climatic Change 61 No. 3 (2003)

[8] Will Steffen et al. “The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship.” Ambio 40, No. 7. October 2011.

[9] Will Steffen, Paul J. Crutzen and John R. McNeill. “The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?” Ambio 36, No. 8, December 2007.

[10] John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York. The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth. New York, Monthly Review Press, 2010), 18.

[11] Editorial. “The Human Epoch.” Nature 473, No. 7347, May 19 2011.

[12] Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, “Introduction,” in Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, editors,  Love Your Monsters: Postenvironmentalism and the Anthropocene. (Breakthrough Institute, Oakland, 2011). Kindle e-book.

[13] Nordhaus and Shellenberger, “Evolve.” in Love Your Monsters

[14] Nordhaus and Shellenberger, “Evolve.” in Love Your Monsters

[15] Clive Hamilton and Jacques Grinevald. “Was the Anthropocene Anticipated?” The Anthropocene Review 2 No. 1. (April 2015)

[16] Erle Ellis, Associate Professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore County.” Breakthrough Institute, n.d.

[17] Jan Zalasiewicz, et al., “When Did the Anthropocene begin? A Mid-Twentieth Century Boundary Level is Stratigraphically Optimal.” Quaternary International, In Press, January 2015

[18] Quoted in Richard Monastersky. “Anthropocene: The human age.” Nature 519, No. 7542. (March 11, 2015)

[19] William F. Ruddiman et al. “Defining the Epoch We Live In.” Science 348, No. 6230 (April 3 2015)

[20] In “Ecomodernists Envision Utopia—but What about War?” Scientific American blogger John Horgan says his expenses are being paid.

[21] Ted Nordhaus, Michael Shellenberger et al. “An Ecomodernist Manifesto.” (April 2015)

[22] Bill Blackwater. “The Denialism of Progressive Environmentalists.” Monthly Review 64, No. 2 (June 2012)

[23] Dipesh Chakrabarty. “The Climate of History: Four Theses.” Critical Inquiry 35 No. 2 (Winter 2009).

News Sun, 24 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Mexican Auto Workers Fired for Protesting Sexual Harassment

At the new Mazda assembly plant in Salamanca, Mexico, 20 workers were fired in March for supporting a co-worker who was being sexually harassed by their supervisor.

According to workers, the accused supervisor would use the cultural practice of a kiss on the cheek as an excuse to get sexual. He would stalk women at work and force himself on them physically.

While traditionally most Mexican auto industry workers have been men, in the state of Guanajuato, where the Salamanca factory is located, women make up about half the auto workforce. They tend to be single—as in the maquiladoras, the Mexican textile factories which prefer women because bosses feel they are more vulnerable and can be paid less.

One worker first complained about this sexual harassment—to the company and the union, using the established complaint procedures—back in May of last year, but the situation was allowed to continue. Next, workers took their case to government agencies, with witnesses and support statements, again with no results.

So “we decided to protest,” said Tadeo Velaquez, one of the 20 fired workers. “We were [all] being harassed at work by this supervisor. It was so intense that it was really difficult to work in a good environment. He would mistreat and bully us all the time.

“Then we heard that one of our partners, a woman, was sexually harassed by him. He wasn’t just disrespecting us; he was also sexually abusing her.”

In March, workers on a subassembly line organized a work-to-rule slowdown. That grabbed management’s attention. A meeting was held. Management and the union agreed to handle the problem with the supervisor.

“We were informed that we weren’t going to be punished for the demonstration,” said Edgar Capetillo, another fired worker. “We had a mutual agreement with the union that nothing was going to happen to us. But 15 days later, we were removed from our duties.”

They were fired without explanation. All 20 of the workers were male.

Pushy New Plant

Representatives of the fired workers appeared on the local news program, Zona Franca, and asked their fellow workers for support. Another woman came forward with her story of harassment.

The supervisor was given two days off. Many workers feel he should be fired.

Supervisor bullies are common at this plant, where management is pushing arduous hours and an intense pace. Workers on the assembly line have suffered injuries to the tendons in their hands, spinal injuries, even convulsions.

Production would stop for nothing, according to the fired workers—if a worker was having convulsions, they would simply be carried away and replaced by another worker.

The plant opened last year with 3,000 employees. It’s in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, Mazda’s only North American assembly site.

This is the first time in decades that the company has run an overseas plant on its own. The last one, in Flat Rock, Michigan, became a joint venture with Ford in 1992, and Mazda ceased production there in 2012.

The Salamanca plant’s annual capacity is initially targeted at 140,000 vehicles. Production is slated to grow to 230,000 in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2016.

After the plant reaches full production, about 30 percent of the Mazda vehicles sold in the United States will be sourced from North America—compared with virtually none today. At full capacity, it will employ 4,600 people.

Mexico's Auto Boom

Mazda isn’t alone. Mexico just surpassed Brazil as the seventh-largest auto producer in the world, producing 3.2 million vehicles last year. By 2020 it’s expected to reach 5.1 million.

Toyota has announced a new $1 billion plant in Guanajuato that will employ 2,000 workers and make 200,000 vehicles. GM is investing $5 billion between 2013 and 2018, adding 5,600 new jobs to the 15,000 it already employs in Mexico. Ford projects another $2.5 billion.

The combination of tariff-free manufacturing, low wages, cheap land, few enforced regulations, and easy access to global markets make Mexico a prime manufacturing center. In the last five years companies have announced $20 billion in investments made or planned.

Salaries have stagnated. One recent study—by a financial institution, the Grupo Financiero BVA Bancomer—found more than half of all working people in Mexico earn less than twice the minimum wage, or about $7 per day. Ten percent receive less than the minimum, $3.50 a day.

These days, if plants in Mexico are threatened with closure, it’s to move the work to Asia. But a Bank of America study found that while in 2003 Mexico’s average wages were 188 percent higher than China’s, today they’re 20 percent lower.

Corrupt Unions

All the workers in Guanajuato’s auto industry, including at the Mazda plant, are represented by the corrupt Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM).

The union sided with management in the firing of the 20.

Despite a law that allows workers the right to return to work after unjust firings, companies operating in Mexico can bank on getting away with firing permanently. Unions are regional, and contracts are negotiated plant by plant. Workers report that the CTM, a company union controlled by Mexico’s ruling party, will not defend them. Fired workers are often forced to sign away their jobs and accept a legally required cash payment instead.

To illustrate the level of corruption, look at Alejandro Rangel, a leader in the Guanajuato CTM who’s also a federal deputy. Union leaders often become federal and state deputies and senators.

Since taking office, Rangel has built himself a castle with a gigantic swimming pool in front. He used his position to have federal funds used to build a road from the main road to his castle.

Unfortunately for him, an error in the specifications labeled the paving project as meant for a nearby town. Like many in the area, this town only had a dirt road. When the error became known, townspeople demanded that their road be paved too.

As a side effect of a federal labor “reform” law passed in 2012, regional union leaders are now allowed to move into other regions. This means those who have the most power in the party and government are taking control of plants in other areas—making the corruption even worse. But they all belong to the CTM and oppose independent unions.

Those independent unions that do exist—in auto plants in Puebla and Cuernavaca—have been unable to expand into Guanajuato. An attempt to form one at the Honda plant in the neighboring state of Jalisco a few years ago ended with organizers being fired, though that’s still being challenged in court.

Revolutionary Legacy

Ford’s plants are close to the U.S. border. But most of Mexico’s auto production is in the center of the country. That’s where GM, Volkswagen, Honda, Renault-Nissan, BMW, Daimler, parts suppliers, and even research and development operations are concentrated.

From a mountain high point, the view is spectacular: an enormous plain filled with auto plants, all emitting the same brownish-pinkish smog. It sits in a layer over the plain, and extends into the surrounding mountains.

This is also the area where the Mexican Revolution of 1810 began. When Miguel Hidalgo announced independence, he demanded that the slaveholders immediately release the indigenous people who toiled in the mines here, carting out gold and silver for the empire.

Will Mexico’s workers be able to use their strength to confront the companies, the government, and the corrupt CTM to build independent unions that can give form to their anger?


Wendy Thompson is a former president of United Auto Workers Local 235.

Meanwhile in the U.S., workers in a Chicago Ford plant are also battling against sexual harassment on the job.

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News Sun, 24 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Latest Victim in the War on Whistleblowers

Jeffrey Sterling recently stood before a judge as his sentence was read. The former CIA officer, the judge declared, would spend 42 months — that’s three and half years — behind bars. The feds had convicted Sterling on nine felony charges, including seven counts of espionage.

He didn’t sell secrets to the Russians. He didn’t trade intelligence for personal gain. He made no attempt to disrupt the American way of life.

What did he do, then?

He reported to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the CIA had botched an operation to feed false information about nuclear technology to Iran — and may have actually helped Iran’s enrichment program instead.

Largely based on this, the government accused Sterling of leaking details about the program to journalist James Risen, who wrote about it in his book State of War.

Even worse, the feds claimed that Sterling, who is black, did it out of resentment over a failed racial discrimination lawsuit against the agency — in effect using Sterling’s willingness to stand up for his rights against him.

There was no actual proof, though, that Sterling was Risen’s source. The only evidence the prosecution had against Sterling was metadata that showed he had spoken to Risen by phone.

There were no recordings, no messages, and no snitches to testify against him. For all we know, Sterling and Risen were talking about the weather. Was this guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? I think not.

Whatever the case, the worst Sterling can be accused of is exposing government failure and indiscretion. In that sense, he easily meets the legal definition of a whistleblower. Whatever information he exposed, he did it in the public interest.

But the Obama administration has abused whistleblowers. I know a little something about that myself — I was charged with three counts of espionage for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program several years ago.

If I hadn’t taken a plea deal, I could’ve been locked up for the rest of my life. I still had to endure nearly two years in a federal prison, followed by a few months of house arrest.

Sterling is the latest victim in this war on whistleblowing.

The message is clear: If you go public with evidence of government malfeasance, you must prepare yourself for the worst. The Justice Department will spend millions of taxpayer dollars to ruin you financially, personally, and professionally — and to make an example of you in the media.

And if you have the nerve to deny the charges and go to trial, the punishment will be even worse.

Sterling believed that if he could get in front of a jury and explain his side of the story, they’d see how ridiculous the entire case really was. But the government exercises such tight control over these cases that most juries would, as the saying goes, convict a baloney sandwich.

In a small sense, Sterling was lucky to get a 42-month sentence. The government had sought up to 24 years. To the judge’s credit, she recognized what one expert witness described as the government’s “overwrought hyperbole.”

And she was surely aware of the sweetheart deal — 18 months unsupervised probation and a fine — General David Petraeus recently landed. The former CIA director had given classified information, including the names of covert agents, to his lover — and then lied about it to the FBI.

In short, the Justice Department is meting out very little “justice” to whistleblowers. But if you’re part of the White House “in” crowd, you’ll get a pass.

I’m glad Sterling’s not going away for 20 years or more.

But the proper action would have been for the judge to send Sterling home to be with his wife, and castigate the Justice Department for wasting the court’s time — and the taxpayers’ money — on wrongheadedly prosecuting another whistleblower.

Opinion Sun, 24 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Obamacare's Health Plan Choice Benefits Are Vastly Overrated

It is well documented that many other countries have created health care systems that are more popular than ours, cover everybody, are more effective as measured by better health outcomes, are better able to restrain increases in costs and, therefore, have per-capita costs that are a fraction of ours.

One of the reasons for the popularity of universal health care systems elsewhere in the developed world is that when everybody is in the same system, everybody has an incentive to make that program work. The people of those countries have a sense of ownership and responsibility for their common system.

That contrasts sharply with the situation here in the U.S., where people primarily and often exclusively are concerned with their own little piece of the system, such as Medicare, the Veterans Affairs, their own employment-based or veteran’s insurance, plans purchased on the Obamacare exchanges, Medicaid and so on.

Americans also are confused about who owns the system. Is it the government, their employer or their union? Or, as more Americans are coming to believe, health insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry or the increasingly consolidated corporate providers of health care such as large hospital systems?

In other words, we lack the solidarity that both is an expression of and created by the existence of a single common way of dealing with the challenges of providing affordable health care coverage for all.

I’m a great fan of the goals of the Affordable Care Act — expanding coverage, restricting the most anti-social practices of health insurance companies and attempting to control overall costs. But I’m not a fan of how it tries to accomplish them.

Obamacare is based on the concept of choice among insurance plans. Such choice is greatly overrated.

In order to provide choice among insurance plans, something most people don’t care much about, we are losing choice among healers, something we care a lot about. We are discovering that choice of insurance plans comes at the cost of losing our choice of doctors and hospitals, as insurance companies vainly attempt to control their premium prices by restricting their networks of “providers.”

The financial price of giving people choice of insurance plans, the very reason for the existence of the problem-plagued health insurance exchanges, is very high. A recent Washington Post article documents the financial struggles of most of the state-run exchanges, struggles that are expected to last indefinitely.

There are other costs, as well. The complex nature of the health insurance “marketplaces” has created unnecessary anxiety and confusion among those using them. That in turn has spawned the creation of armies of consultants, “navigators” and other helpers to assist people in finding their way through the maze of choices created by the health insurance industry and exacerbated by Obamacare. This only adds to our national health care bill and does not buy one doctor visit, lab test, Band-Aid or aspirin.

Complexity is a huge drag on the popularity of our health care system as a whole. I have written before about the barriers to further reform of our health care system — fear, anger, ignorance, ideology, apathy and greed.

Apathy often characterizes people who already are well covered and don’t see any reason to worry about those who aren’t. They include the 55 million beneficiaries of Medicare and roughly 140 million covered by employment-related insurance who like it so much that they are frightened and angered by any program designed to expand coverage for others, fearful that it will reduce their own benefits.

Our obsession with “choice” among health plans not only is misplaced but economically costly and confusing and itself is a huge barrier to political solidarity. The infighting among groups covered by different plans is a powerful ally of those profiting from and wedded to the status quo. It is an important barrier to the one common sense idea most bolstered by evidence of fairness and of effectiveness — improved Medicare for all.

We urgently need fundamental reform of the way we finance health care in the U.S.

Fundamental change is extremely difficult in politics. But as the race to the bottom created by the folly of attempting to interject more choice and competition among insurance plans becomes clearer, the public becomes better informed about the alternatives and frustration grows, and people in Maine and elsewhere will come to demand it.

Opinion Sun, 24 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Biggest Lessons Nepal Will Take Away From Its Tragedy

Experts have said for years that Kathmandu is an extremely high-risk city in the event of seismic activity, yet Nepal was caught off guard when a massive earthquake struck on April 25, 2015. (Photo: Amantha Perera/IPS)Experts have said for years that Kathmandu is an extremely high-risk city in the event of seismic activity, yet Nepal was caught off guard when a massive earthquake struck on April 25, 2015. (Photo: Amantha Perera/IPS)

Colombo - There has never been any doubt that Nepal is sitting on one of the most seismically active areas in South Asia. The fact that, when the big one struck, damages and deaths would be catastrophic has been known for years.

Indeed, when this correspondent visited Nepal several years ago, and found himself climbing up the narrow, winding stairwell of the Nepal Red Cross Society office in Kathmandu, a poster on one of the doors demanded a close read: “Kathmandu Valley is most vulnerable during an earthquake,” the sign said.

“One study has shown than in case of an earthquake, 40,000 people may die, 95,000 persons may be seriously injured and 60 percent of houses will be totally destroyed.”

Looking out of the window at the densely populated hillsides, dotted with three-storey concrete structures hugging each other in the jam-packed metropolis, it was clear the warnings were not hyperbolic.

Little over a month before the massive earthquake struck on Apr. 25, Mahendra Bahadur Pandey, Nepal’s minister for foreign affairs, warned the world yet again of what was to come.

“It is […] estimated that the human losses in the Kathmandu Valley alone, should there be a major seismic event, will be catastrophic,” he told the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, in March.

Horrifyingly, his words were prophetic of the tragedy that unfolded not long after.

Caught off guard

Less than two weeks after the 7.8-magnitude quake rippled through Nepal, close to 8,000 people had been pronounced dead, while hundreds are still missing. Families wait for news, while officials wait for their worst fears to be confirmed: that the death toll will likely climb higher in the coming days.

Over 17,500 people are injured, and ten hospitals have been completely destroyed, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

An estimated eight million people, largely in the country’s Western and Central Regions, have been affected by the disaster – representing over a quarter of Nepal’s population of over 27 million people.

The largest cities, such as Kathmandu and Pokhara, have been badly hit; within 72 hours of the quake, over half a million fled Kathmandu to outlying areas.

Despite ample evidence of the damage a disaster of this scale could wreak on the country, Nepal was in many ways caught unawares, and is now struggling to meet the challenges of providing for a beleaguered and petrified population, who weathered numerous aftershocks in the week following the major quake.

Scores of families are still living in tents, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued an urgent funding appeal for the estimated 3.5 million people in need of emergency food aid.

With so many hospitals destroyed, doctors have resorted to treating patients in the street. The U.N. health agency has allocated 1.1 million dollars for medical staff and supplies and has so far treated 50,000 patients in the 14 most severely affected districts.

‘Resources woefully lacking’

But there is a limit to what aid agencies and donor countries can do, and eventually the government will have to shoulder the lion’s share of the recovery effort: something experts feel Nepal is unprepared for.

“It is a massive relief operation, probably the largest in this region that we have launched,” Orla Fagan, regional media officer at OCHA’s office in Bangkok, Thailand, told IPS.

The long-term reconstruction bill could be as high as five billion dollars, while U.N. agencies said last week that they need at least 415 million dollars for more immediate efforts over the next three months.

Fagan said that because the threat levels were known, some degree of coordination and disaster preparedness work was being carried out in the Himalayan country prior to the disaster, mostly relating to training and building awareness.

“There was coordination between the government and U.N. agencies, but it was on a very small scale,” she said, adding, “You need to understand that this is one of the poorest countries in the world and resources were woefully lacking.”

Nepal is considered a Least Developed Country (LDC) and currently ranks 145 out of 187 on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI). It is also saddled with massive debt – over 3.8 billion dollars owed to donors like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) – and funneled over 217 million dollars into debt repayments last year, money that might have been better spent shoring up its disaster preparation and management systems.

Fagan explained that the main gaps in disaster preparedness levels were in information management, with the government failing to collect data gathered by various actors into a cohesive national data bank. The country was also lacking a tried and tested national blueprint on early response and coordination of relief efforts.

A little known fact is that despite the very real threats of earthquakes, heavy rains, landslides and glacial lake outbursts, Nepal’s disaster response policies are governed by the over three-decades-old 1982 Natural Calamities Relief Act.

Though a 2008 draft act envisaged a National Disaster Management Authority, it is yet to be ratified by parliament.

“The hope now is that with all the international resources and goodwill pouring in, Nepal can build a stronger national disaster preparedness policy and mechanism,” Fagan said.

Learning lessons from the region

Regional disaster experts agree with that assessment.

“First the funds need to be used for recovery interventions,” explained N.M.S.I. Arambepola, director of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center in Bangkok. “But a part of the funds should be used to develop a road map for a disaster resilient Nepal.

“The document would also identify the roles and responsibilities [of various government agencies] in implementation, ensuring that the government initiates a long-term plan for disaster risk reduction with the support of the development community,” the expert told IPS.

Such a document would specify which branches would issue warnings, which would disseminate them and which would be in charge of evacuations, for instance.

Arambepola also believes Nepal could learn a thing or two from its neighbors, no strangers to natural disasters.

“Nepal should take the example of other South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka to develop policy [and] legal frameworks and an institutional set-up for disaster risk reduction,” he stressed.

Sri Lanka in particular presents an excellent case study, since it was just ten years ago that the country was caught in a similar crisis, completely at a loss to deal with the devastating impact of the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Whereas Nepal at least has been aware of the earthquake threat in its densely populated cities for many years, Sri Lanka had no idea that its coast – home to 50 percent of the country’s 20 million people – was in such grave danger.

It found out the hard way on Dec. 24 when the killer waves knocked the stuffing out of three percent of its population, leaving 35,000 dead, over a million destitute, and a reconstruction bill of three billion dollars.

The country’s former secretary to the ministry of disaster management, S M Mohamed, described the tsunami as an “eye-opener”, sparking efforts at both government and civil society levels to ensure that the country would never again be caught off guard.

While the road to stronger management and preparedness has by no means been a smooth one, Sri Lanka has nevertheless made great strides since that fateful day, including setting up the country’s first-ever Disaster Management Centre (DMC).

In the last decade the DMC has evolved into the main national hub for disaster preparedness levels as well as becoming the nodal public agency for relief coordination and early warnings in the event of a natural calamity.

It has district offices in all 25 districts with personnel ready at any time for immediate deployment. In April 2012, the DMC was instrumental in efficiently evacuating over a million people from the coast, due to a tsunami threat.

“The Sri Lankan operation grew from scratch, and now it’s at a somewhat effective level, [though] there are still gaps. Disaster resilience is more about lessons learnt by trial and error,” DMC Additional Director Sarath Lal Kumara told IPS.

Although Nepal’s challenges are unique compared to some of the worst disasters in the region’s history – with 600,000 flattened houses after the quake, compared to Sri Lanka’s 100,000 following the tsunami, for instance – it still stands to take away valuable lessons that will hopefully prevent unnecessary damages and loss of life in the case of future catastrophes.


Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

News Sun, 24 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Shot and Gassed: Thousands of Protected Birds Killed Annually

  Sandhill cranes are among more than 300 species of migratory birds that have been killed legally across the U.S. since 2011 to protect a wide range of business activities and public facilities under what’s called the “depredation permit” program.  (Photo: Tom Knudson/Reveal) Sandhill cranes are among more than 300 species of migratory birds that have been killed legally across the US since 2011 to protect a wide range of business activities and public facilities under what's called the "depredation permit" program. (Photo: Tom Knudson/Reveal)

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This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

Every spring, bird-watchers from across America gather in Nebraska for one of the continent’s great avian spectacles – the mass migration of sandhill cranes through an hourglass-like passage along the Platte River.

The birds rarely disappoint: With enormous wingspans, they circle like hang gliders over the river valley, filling the air with raucous revelry. And according to fossil records, they’ve been carrying on like that for quite some time: 9 million years, in fact, making them North America’s oldest bird species.

But some several hundred miles northeast in Wisconsin and Michigan, sandhill cranes are met with a different reception: They are shot dead by farmers or their hired guns under a little-known federal program that allows for the killing of birds protected by one of this nation’s bedrock conservation laws, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Red-tailed hawks are among the migratory birds that have been killed under the federal “depredation permit” program. (Photo: Tom Knudson/Reveal)Red-tailed hawks are among the migratory birds that have been killed under the federal "depredation permit" program. (Photo: Tom Knudson/Reveal)What happens to those cranes may seem surprising. But it is not out of the ordinary.

Reveal has obtained never-before-released data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showing more than 300 species of migratory birds – from red-tailed hawks to American kestrels, turkey vultures to mallard ducks – have been killed legally across the United States since 2011 to protect a wide range of business activities and public facilities under what’s called the “depredation permit” program.

Even in the best of times, migratory birds lead perilous lives. Today, with climate change and habitat loss adding to the danger, wildlife advocates say the government-sanctioned killing is a taxpayer-funded threat that the birds should not have to face, one that is hidden from the public and often puts the needs of commerce ahead of conservation.

The birds are dispatched to protect farm fields, vineyards, air traffic, golf courses, pistachio orchards, landfills, fish farms, zoos and aquariums. Some birds are killed for environmental reasons, such as protecting rare Western snowy plovers.

For their part, most of the sandhill cranes usually were killed for eating farmers’ potatoes and corn.

Most of the species killed are in no biological danger – their populations are stable. But many are beloved by a broad swath of American society, including great blue herons, white and brown pelicans, cedar waxwings, robins, belted kingfishers and mourning doves.

And some are struggling to cope with habitat loss, climate change and other threats and are classified by the government as “birds of conservation concern.” These include upland sandpipers, lesser yellowlegs, roseate spoonbills and red-throated loons, who, because of declining populations, could be on their way to the endangered species list.

Agency policy says killing birds is meant to be a temporary fix. Yet its own data show lethal removal often is the default option. Eighty-nine of the 100 businesses and agencies responsible for the most mortalities received permission from the service to kill the same species of birds at least three years in a row, the permit data show.

Even the service’s top permitting official is concerned. George Allen, head of the migratory bird division’s permits and regulation office, said he’d want to address that issue if he had time to revisit the agency’s rules.

“It’s just not one we’ve worked on,” he said.

The total body count for a recent three-year period came to 1.6 million, including more than 4,600 sandhill cranes. Four populous species – brown-headed cowbirds, red-winged blackbirds, common grackles and Canada geese – accounted for two-thirds of the mortalities.

But many less common birds were killed, too, including 875 upland sandpipers, 479 barn owls, 79 wood ducks, 55 lesser yellowlegs, 46 snowy owls, 12 roseate spoonbills, three curlew sandpipers, two red-throated loons and one western bluebird.

Most of the birds killed under the federal “depredation permit” program, including great blue herons, have stable populations and aren’t in any biological danger. (Photo: Tom Knudson/Reveal)Most of the birds killed under the federal "depredation permit" program, including great blue herons, have stable populations and aren't in any biological danger. (Photo: Tom Knudson/Reveal)

Birds were killed from coast to coast, but certain places were more deadly than others.

The most lethal state was Louisiana, where nearly 600,000 brown-headed cowbirds were killed in part to protect rice farms.

The second deadliest was California, where American coots were killed by the thousands to protect golf course greens and fairways. Usually the birds are shot, but sometimes they’re fed bait laced with a chemical that makes them fall asleep. Then they’re rounded up and killed in portable carbon dioxide chambers in the backs of pickup trucks. In California, some robins also were killed to protect vineyards.

No. 3 was Arkansas, where more than 22,000 double-breasted cormorants and thousands of other fish-eating birds were killed at fish hatcheries and aquaculture facilities.

Most of the killing is carried out without public notice. Even many conservationists are unaware of it. But those who are familiar with the permit program mostly don’t like it. They say that nonlethal options – such as scaring birds away or making the landscape less bird-friendly – are not given enough consideration and that lethal action is too often the default option.

“Nonlethal methods should always be given preference in these kinds of situations,” said Mike Daulton, vice president of government relations for the National Audubon Society, one of the nation’s oldest and most powerful conservation organizations. “The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is one of America’s most important wildlife conservation laws, and it should be strongly and reasonably enforced to maintain healthy wild populations of America’s native birds.”

Allen at the Fish and Wildlife Service said allowing the killing of nuisance birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act isn’t antithetical to the service’s mission of conserving wildlife populations.

“Promoting populations is good,” he said. “But without offering people an option to control what are obvious problems, we’re not doing our job, either.”

See the data: Birds killed under depredation permits in the United States

Birds and humans have clashed for generations, of course. That’s why farmers put out scarecrows. But as cities and agriculture have grown, the scope of the conflicts has expanded. Today, even green industries sometimes kill birds. The government estimates that wind farms will take the lives of 1 million birds every year by 2030. To make that legal, the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering a new permit system for the “incidental” killing of birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

That act, a cornerstone of U.S. conservation history, grew out of an era of excess and slaughter at the turn of the 20th century. Many of North America’s migratory birds were being decimated, not for food but for feathers and other body parts that were used to make ladies’ hats, which had become signs of luxury and sophistication. In 1916, the United States and Great Britain, on behalf of Canada, signed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It became illegal to kill or capture migratory birds, as well as to buy or sell them.

The U.S. government, however, later made an exception. If a migratory bird is causing economic damage (such as destroying crops), posing a risk to humans (airports) or doing some other type of damage, a landowner can ask the Fish and Wildlife Service to approve the “lethal take,” or killing, of the problem birds.

In order to get a permit, applicants must explain what nonlethal measures they’ve tried and why they didn’t work. The idea is to demonstrate that killing the birds is a last resort.

American kestrels are among the migratory birds that have been killed under the federal “depredation permit” program. (Photo: Tom Knudson/Reveal)American kestrels are among the migratory birds that have been killed under the federal "depredation permit" program. (Photo: Tom Knudson/Reveal)The Fish and Wildlife Service generally doesn’t have the capacity to rigorously check what alternative methods each and every applicant has tried. Instead, it farms the work out to another government agency with a similar name but different mission: Wildlife Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For generations, Wildlife Services has long specialized in killing wildlife – including migratory birds – that are considered a threat to agriculture, commerce and the public. In recent years, the agency’s practices have drawn volleys of criticism from wildlife advocates and some members of Congress, who say they are scientifically unsound, heavy-handed and inhumane.

The agency relies on traps, snares and poison that kill indiscriminately. In 2012, the Sacramento Bee reported that Wildlife Services had killed more than 50,000 animals by mistake since 2000, including federally protected bald and golden eagles; more than 1,100 dogs, including family pets; and several species considered rare or imperiled. The investigation also noted that a growing body of science has found the agency’s killing of predators “is altering ecosystems in ways that diminish biodiversity, degrade habitat and invite disease.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General now is conducting an audit to determine if the agency’s lethal control is justified and effective.

“Wildlife Services depends on killing predators and depredating migratory birds for its existence. When that’s what you do for a living, you tend to encourage people to adopt that solution,” said Daniel Rohlf, an environmental lawyer and professor at Lewis and Clark Law School in Oregon.

When landowners do get a permit to kill birds, Wildlife Services often is contracted to do the work. That contributes to a tendency to look to lethal control, rather than find more creative, nonlethal solutions, Rohlf said.

But many wildlife managers say killing the birds, while controversial, is an important tool in protecting property and human safety.

Stephen Vantassel is a former wildlife management operator who runs the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. People are too quick to “demonize” lethal control, he said. It’s an important element in any wildlife control plan.

Vantassel said that in some cases, killing a few birds in tandem with other methods, such as loud blasts, makes those nonlethal methods more effective since some species will come to associate the noise with death.

But the International Crane Foundation, the world’s largest crane protection organization in Baraboo, Wisconsin, says the deaths just make room for other birds to take their place in prime habitat.

The foundation’s research coordinator, Anne Lacy, was startled to hear that so many sandhill cranes were being killed. “It’s ineffective,” she said. “Shooting two or five or 10 out of a flock – five days later, another group of birds might move through.”

Most of the birds killed under the federal “depredation permit” program, including white pelicans, have stable populations and aren’t in any biological danger. (Photo: Tom Knudson/Reveal)Most of the birds killed under the federal "depredation permit" program, including white pelicans, have stable populations and aren't in any biological danger. (Photo: Tom Knudson/Reveal)

There are alternatives to lethal methods, from reflective tape to pyrotechnics to hanging dead birds in effigy to frighten living ones away. That’s what the Fish and Wildlife Service recommended that The Living Desert, a zoo in Palm Desert, California, do to deal with a raven problem. And it also offered some public relations advice. “It is strongly encouraged that efforts are conducted out-of-view of the public,” the permit says.

In Wisconsin, the crane foundation recommends a corn seed treatment it helped develop called Avipel that irritates the birds’ stomachs so much that they fly off to find other food.

But more and more, people are turning to old-fashioned solutions: dogs and falcons.

Specially trained border collies are hired to race around golf courses, parks and other places to chase away nuisance birds on a regular basis. New York City’s Central Park took on two collies in 2007 to keep geese away. And Portland International Airport, which has one of the lowest rates of intentional bird deaths among major metropolitan airports, also employs a collie, named Fish, to chase geese.

Falconers are hired to fly the predatory birds above vineyards, berry farms and landfills to scare – but not kill – depredating birds. Brad Felger, the president of Airstrike Bird Control, got his start decades ago as a falconry hobbyist who put his birds to use at California’s Central Coast vineyards. Now his team operates at vineyards, farms, landfills and power stations throughout California and the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s starting to be recognized as an extremely effective method,” Felger said. “It uses the predator-prey response to put the small birds into overload. It’s a little too much for them and they just move on.”


This story was edited by Andrew Donohue and copy edited by Sheela Kamath.

Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting is a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Subscribe to the Reveal podcast and visit our website to learn more.

News Sun, 24 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Not Counting Mexicans and Indians, Part II: Recognizing Genocide and Moving Toward Liberation

We must take a deeper look at US state violence against Brown and Indigenous people - how it amounts to a sort of low-intensity ethnic cleansing: a modern manifestation of the genocide of 1492.


2015.5.25.Rodriguez.mainColumbus No More rally in Saint Paul, Minnesota, before marching to the capitol on April 18, 2015. (Photo: Native Lives Matter via Facebook)

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The mass media continues to discuss instances of police violence in this country as aberrations, bypassing the larger systems that drive them. This line of thinking actually contributes to the national crisis we are living - a crisis that goes beyond "human rights abuses." We are dealing with crimes against humanity, specifically perpetrated against the Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples and communities of this country.

Also see Part I: "Not Counting Mexicans or Indians": The Many Tentacles of State Violence Against Black-Brown-Indigenous Communities 

The common threads here are dehumanization and impunity; as Professor Otto Santa Ana notes in Brown Tide Rising: "Only humans have human rights." It is this dehumanizing force that permits such egregious violence against the Black, Brown and Indigenous communities of this nation to occur, and to occur without accountability. We can see this phenomenon at work not simply on the streets, but also in the courts and in the prisons, dehumanizing institutions that have become, in effect, warehouses for people of color.

At the moment, the historic and brutal violence against Brown-Indigenous peoples remains under the radar of this nation's corporate media, the nation's conversations and its psyche. (This is not to say, of course, that police violence against Black communities should receive less attention; in fact, it should receive much more attention, as should violence against Brown and Indigenous communities.) A particularly brutal and abhorrent case near Tucson, Arizona, helps to illustrate this attitude and relationship.

On Feb. 19, a police officer intentionally rammed his fast-speeding police vehicle into an armed and wanted suspect, Mario Miranda Valencia, from behind, sending him hurtling through the air. The suspect survived. After the incident, Marana Police Chief Terry Rozema stated that the maneuver by officer Michael Rapiejko, actually saved the suspect's life, apparently believing that the confrontation would not otherwise have resulted in Valencia's survival. It strains credulity that such a violent maneuver is deemed lawful ... and life-saving.

A careful examination of recent and documented law enforcement killings reveals the wide range of this violence's impacts on Black, Brown and Indigenous communities, including US Arab/Muslim communities. During this time, the national media has focused on a few, primarily high-profile cases, such as that of Michael Brown  of Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner of New York, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Tony Robinson of Madison, Wisconsin and Freddie Gray from Baltimore. However, even since early February, when part I of this article, "Not Counting Mexicans or Indians" appeared, there have been a number of cases of severe police violence perpetrated against many more Blacks, and Mexican, and Central American and other Indigenous peoples. On Feb. 10, in Pasco Washington, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, was gunned down for purportedly throwing rocks at officers. As is typical in this country, even some people who otherwise oppose police abuse were skeptical of whether Zambrano-Montes should receive compassion, compensation and justice, because he is an undocumented migrant.

On Feb 20, 2015, Ruben Garcia Villapando, an undocumented migrant, was killed by a Grapevine police officer in Texas after getting out of his vehicle, unarmed and with his hands up at all times, asking the officer: "Are you going to kill me?" The officer did. He will face no criminal charges, a grand jury recently decided. On Feb 26, 2015, Amilcar Perez-Lopez, a 21-year-old man from Guatemala, was killed by San Francisco Police officers 15 feet from his home, supposedly for trying to steal a bicycle. On Feb 27, Ernesto Canepa was killed by officers in Santa Ana, California, as part of a robbery investigation. In another case, on April 23, Hector Marejon was killed by a Long Beach police officer, Jeffrey A. Meyer, for purportedly pointing a gun at an officer. No weapon was found.

In recent years, Santa Ana, Fullerton and Anaheim in Orange County, California, have been sites of gruesome and periodic murders by law enforcement officers. They have also been sites of community resistance. For example, a series of killings by Anaheim officers (eight officer-involved shootings in one year), including that of Manuel Diaz (and Joel Acevedo) in July of 2012, led not simply to unrest, but also to officers shooting rubber bullets indiscriminately at bystanders, and unleashing a vicious police dog against those nonviolently protesting the killings.

In a particularly heinous case from last year, Manuel Longoria after leading Sheriff's deputies from Pinal County, Arizona, on a chase, with his hands clearly up in the air and surrounded by numerous deputies, was shot twice by a lone deputy. A statement by the sheriff's department claimed that Longoria appeared to be going for a gun. Video footage clearly contradicts this statement, and no gun was found.

Along the southern border, there has been a rash of killings, brutality and rape by officers over the past several years. However, there has not been a single conviction, primarily because US Border Patrol officers, in effect, are not accountable to anyone. This does not even take into account the more than 6,000 migrants who have been found dead along the border since the advent of NAFTA in 1994. An examination of the recovered remains, documented by Derechos Humanos' Missing Migrant Project, reveals that quite a few bodies found in the desert exhibit signs of "blunt force trauma" to the head. Each death should actually be counted as governmental violence as they result from intentional policies strategically designed to funnel migrants through the most inhospitable parts of the border.

Many migrants are also subjected to vigilante violence, both near and far away from the border. For example, a recent vigilante attack in Florida resulted in the death of Onesimo Marcelino Lopez-Ramos, 18, whose head had been bashed in by a large rock. Three White teenagers, who had gone "Guate-hunting," were arrested for this hate crime.

Unbeknownst to many, Indigenous people have the highest rates of killings by police in the United States. For example, Christina Tahhahwah, a Comanche tribal member from Lawton Oklahoma, was purportedly killed by police (tasered) in November of last year in her cell, for singing Comanche songs after she had been arrested and jailed. She had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

On April 3 of this year, a pregnant Indigenous woman, Jeanetta Riley, from rural Idaho, was gunned down by officers armed with AR-15s. She was killed within 15 seconds of arriving at a hospital. Her husband had brought her to get help as she had been threatening to harm herself while holding a knife. As reported in The Guardian, the shooting of a dog in a nearby town - 14 hours after Riley was shot - garnered the dog's owner (who was White) $80,000. Riley's family did not receive even an apology.

The previous April, Jack Keewatinawin, an Indigenous man suffering from mental illness, was killed after Seattle police arrived inquiring about a domestic situation involving a son attacking his father. Keewatinawin had calmed down when the police had arrived, and his father, Henry Northwind, pleaded with the officers not to kill his son, but to no avail. After the killing of his son, Northwind asked one of the officers: "Are you happy? How many more Indians you think you need to kill?" The Guardian reports that at least half of the more than 1,000 people killed annually by police in the United States are "mentally disturbed."

The killings are not confined to certain parts of the country. A recent four-part series by Truthout highlighted killings by Chicago police and the culture of secrecy and impunity they inhabit. The series began with the killing of 14-year-old Pedro Rios of Chicago, this past July, at about the same time as the killing of Michael Brown. Rios was shot in the back and was classified as both a homicide and suicide, thus disappearing his death from the city statistics of those killed by police.

The vast majority of police abuse cases are not killings - but they do often result in brutalization that requires hospitalization, sometimes with permanent physical or psychological injuries. They also often result in incarceration, which brings injuries of its own. Akin to "stop and frisk" (profile and harass), officers' extreme brutality is meant to convey the message that law enforcement owns the streets and will brutalize and kill whenever necessary, to deliver this message.

That the national media and government have taken notice of police killings of Black men and youth is long overdue. They have taken notice because of massive protests led by Black people who are bringing this truth to light. (The message that national media send is that unless a community protests en masse, no one will listen.)

Still, the national media and the government need to understand that we are no longer living in the 1950s, when television was broadcast in black and white. Failure to understand this will cause them to fail to see something much bigger and more profound: an extreme violence that is part of the roots and foundation of this nation. But then again, the mass media aim to do the opposite: to portray these events as isolated aberrations that occasionally flare up in a crisis, in Black communities. To acknowledge that the violence is systemic, and that it also includes police violence against Brown peoples and Indigenous peoples, would be dangerous to the status quo: It would require a different explanation and a broader, deeper set of solutions. 

Why do we not know the names of the Brown people mentioned thus far in this article? It is because the media and political leaders dismiss them as exceptions; by omission or commission, they argue that these people are not really Americans, viewing them as either foreigners or as peoples from the past. To grasp the broader reality of state violence, we must dispose of the lenses provided by the government and corporate media. We must take a deeper look at state violence against Brown and Indigenous people - how it amounts to a sort of low-intensity ethnic cleansing: a modern manifestation of the genocide, land theft and initial enslavement of the Indigenous peoples of this continent that goes back to 1492. It is part of a history that is intertwined with the history of the enslavement of African peoples on this continent, and specifically, in this country. This violence is also intertwined with notions of Manifest Destiny and even the American Dream.

Truly, that dream, as codified by the US Constitution, was never meant to include Black-Brown-Indigenous peoples. Only later, if they were willing to completely assimilate, to participate in their own cultural genocide, were they permitted to become part of that "dream."

Truthfully, the very idea of "America" cannot exist without Indigenous displacement and genocide. The policing of the concept of "American" is continued with this nation's immigration policies, which focus on Brown peoples and the southern border - a lawless though militarized border, complete with walls and immigration patrols that resemble hunter battalions, roaming the entire expanse of this nation. The patrols and law enforcement officers who police migrants' lives operate with almost complete impunity. 

In the face of these multifaceted oppressions, many people have begun to turn to the federal government for solutions. Yet the federal government itself has always been - and continues to be - implicated in the violence. This is the very same government that has deported, largely via racial profiling, more than 2 million non-"criminal" migrants since 2008. It is the government that runs Operation Streamline, a pseudo-judicial anti-immigrant proceeding akin to assembly-line justice, that, in effect, is a for-profit incarceration and Indian Removal-scheme that enriches private corporations. 

This is the same government that illegally invaded Iraq on trumped-up charges, and got away with it. It is the same government that is involved in a worldwide war, utilizing unilateral authority to kill suspects via the use of drones, sans trials. It is also the same government that imprisons people without charges at Guantanamo - and imprisons 2.4 million people within its own borders. It is the government that continues the politics of conquest, at home and abroad.

What we are now witnessing is residue from the era of colonialism. The system that was set in place, particularly the judicial system, remains in place. For people of color, the institution of the "law" itself has historically been a core problem, as it was created to guarantee the smooth operation of colonial institutions, including the facilitation of land theft, slavery, segregation and discrimination. This also included the facilitation of genocide and other forms of violence, such as vigilante "justice" and lynchings of people of color, particularly Black people in the South and Mexicans and American Indians in the Southwest. This is also why the US prison system today is the largest in the world, full of prisoners of color. 

So the question becomes, what can be done about "police brutality," when the very fabric of this nation is steeped in extreme state violence, and when it maintains a judicial and penal system that ensures the subjugation of people of color? 

Perhaps the time has come to question that very foundation - a system that permits and perpetuates that daily dehumanization. That questioning should take place everywhere and always, from city hall to Congress and from the classroom to the newsroom, and from the local courtroom to the international court of justice.

That means questioning the very laws used to subjugate people of color. It means questioning the doctrine of discovery that made the land claims of Europeans possible, which purportedly gave/gives Europeans the right to lands and even souls on this continent. Yet, until we are all seen and treated as full human beings, with corresponding full human rights, we can expect little to change.

Actually, the solution is already before us, and for that, we can thank all those that have been struggling against this scourge against humanity, especially the Black Lives Matter movement and those who have been working for decades to dismantle the "discovery doctrine."

We are now compelled to replace that discovery doctrine with a principle that considers all life as sacred. The Maya concept of In Lak Ech - Tu Eres mi Otro Yo, or You are my other me - is such an ethos. When we - particularly including law enforcement - move toward adopting this ethos on a broad scale, seeing all people as full human beings, we will begin to glimpse an actual end to this historic, systematic and pandemic violence.

News Mon, 25 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400