Truthout Stories Tue, 13 Oct 2015 03:11:09 -0400 en-gb Mayo Mayhem ]]> Art Mon, 12 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400 GM Crops: An Uneasy Truce Hangs Over Europe

Most EU member states have now exercised a new conditional legal right to prevent GM crops from being cultivated within their own territories. This is the first time they have been able to do so since the EU started regulating the technology more than 20 years ago. It represents a compromise attempt by the European Commission to overcome a status quo where only one GM crop is cultivated in the EU and member states impose national bans based on safety concerns.

When the deadline for exercising the right expired on October 3, it ended a transitional period where member states could take the "easy option" to restrict GM cultivation in part or all of their territories. There will be other chances later, but with more substantial hurdles.


GM crops have been highly contentious within the EU. Once a crop received EU authorisation, it automatically applied across all member states - irrespective of who voted yes or no. Indeed, crops can even be authorised where the majority of members are opposed, under rules that state that crops permitted in one state can be grown in any (this happened with Novartis BT176 maize in the 1990s, for example).

Some member states and regions have resisted by establishing the GMO-Free Network and invoking so-called "safeguard clauses" that permit temporary bans on a crop at national level where new information demonstrates a risk to human health or the environment. Some members have also pushed for greater freedom to restrict cultivation at national level, while the commission has been delaying authorising new crops to avoid conflict.

The European Court of Justice condemned the commission for these delays in 2013. There has also been the possibility for further action before the World Trade Organisation, as the situation mirrors a previous de facto moratorium that ran between 1999 and 2003 and was condemned by the organisation following pressure from the US and Canada.

The New Approach

The commission proposed the new rules back in 2010. It proposed that risk assessment and management would remain harmonised at the EU level, while members could impose post-authorisation restrictions. After much wrangling, this led to Directive 2015/412 coming into force in April. It aims to give more sceptical states such as Austria and Italy the freedom to choose to prevent cultivation while potentially enabling more enthusiastic territories such as Spain and England to cultivate crops that have not yet been authorised.

The directive allows member states to request geographical restrictions while a crop is being authorised (or reauthorised) without providing reasons, subject to the applicant biotech company not objecting. In the case of crops that are already authorised, member states can unilaterally impose restrictions if they can demonstrate they are necessary to protect a "compelling ground" (the directive contains a non-exhaustive list). The company and other interested parties can raise a legal challenge, however.

The transitional phase that ended on October 3 enabled members to use the first option to prevent cultivation of the one GM crop with EU authorisation - Monsanto's MON810 maize - and the eight crop applications going through the authorisation process.

Effective Compromise?

Of the 19 member states which met the deadline to apply to prevent GM cultivation, the first two have already been waived through by the biotech companies in question and the remainder look likely to receive the same treatment. The hope from the companies is that these members will be willing to vote in favour of authorisations in future, or at least not attempt to block them - and that they will lift their safeguard-clause bans and not resort to new ones, since they feed wider concerns over safety.

The longer-term position is less clear, though. Preliminary findings from my research funded by the British Academy, involving interviews of member representatives, indicate that the opt-out will make some states less likely to create safeguard measures, but have little to no impact on votes on authorisations. It is true that crops may nonetheless be authorised either by qualified majority votes or by the commission where there is a hung vote. Where the commission was wary of forcing through authorisations in the past, it may feel the system is now sufficiently flexible to make this acceptable.

But even then, lack of member support lengthens the process for approving a new crop and removes the incentives for applicant companies to agree to exclude particular territories from their applications or waive their right to challenge a restriction of an existing authorisation. You can understand member states feeling that they have to be consistent in their approach to a particular crop at national and EU level, but there is a danger that applicant companies may see no reason to rubber-stamp restrictions if the same countries are going to obstruct them at the EU level anyway.

For members seeking restrictions who don't get the blessing of the applicant company, if the EU grants an approval for a crop, they are then reduced to making "compelling grounds" arguments for a unilateral restriction. It may be a difficult argument to win. Justifications on grounds of environmental protection are limited under the directive. And because the rules permit local restrictions, it makes it harder to argue that an outright prohibition across a whole country is justified.

On the other hand, if member states are prevented from opting out, the danger swings the other way: they may fall back into their well trodden paths and resort to safeguard clauses, threaten to block authorisations and generally make the whole authorisation process tortuous.

So the October 3 deadline was only one step in this debate. If both the EU's member states and the biotech companies can demonstrate flexibility, more crops might be authorised and safeguard measures might be lifted. Directive 2015/412 would then look like a workable truce. If not, it will not be long before the EU's long conflict over GM crops resumes.

The Conversation

News Mon, 12 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Fortune 500 Companies Have $2.1 Trillion Stashed in Overseas Tax Havens, and More

In today's On the News segment: Fortune 500 companies have $2.1 trillion stashed in overseas tax havens; workers in Washington, DC, could soon be guaranteed 16 weeks of paid family leave; the proposed "Student Loan Relief Act" has more to do with helping banks than any real relief for students; and more.

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


Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...

You need to know this. America's biggest companies are playing by their own set of rules. According to a recent report from two major watchdog organizations, our nation's Fortune 500 companies have $2.1 trillion stashed in overseas tax havens. To put that number in perspective, it's worth noting that the entire federal budget for 2015 was only about $3.8 trillion. This stunning report, called "Offshore Shell Games 2015," was the result of a study conducted by Citizens for Tax Justice and the US Public Interest Research Group. They found that about 70 percent of these massive companies have subsidiaries in low-tax nations like Bermuda, Luxembourg, Ireland and the Netherlands. In many cases, those subsidiaries are really just PO boxes used to pretend like they do business in those nations. By stashing money away overseas, those corporations have left taxpayers to foot the bill for as much as $620 billion of unpaid taxes. And, that means they're getting huge benefits from our nation without contributing their share of the costs. Michelle Surka of US PIRG said, "The American multinationals that take advantage of tax havens use our roads, benefit from our education system and large consumer market, and enjoy the security we have here, but are ultimately taking a free ride at the expense of other taxpayers." We give these corporations the privilege of doing business in our great nation, and they make a boatload of profit at our expense. The corporate powers have taken our pensions, reduced our wages, and destroyed our environment. The least they could do is contribute their fair share of taxes, instead of skirting the system to make a few extra bucks for shareholders. If corporations want to do business in the United States, it's about time they start pulling their weight. Let's make these companies pay their fair share by demanding that they bring their money back from overseas and fork over the taxes that they skipped out on for all of these years.

If seven city council members in DC get their way, workers in the District could soon be guaranteed 16 weeks of paid family leave. Last week, council members David Grosso and Elissa Silverman introduced legislation that would protect workers who need to take time off to care for a new child or sick family member. If it's approved, that bill would offer workers more protection than the Congressional Democrats' plan of 12 weeks paid leave. And, it would be a huge improvement over the current policy, which only offers 16 weeks of unpaid family leave. The proposed plan would go even further than the plan introduced by Democrats by guaranteeing 100 percent of a workers income up to $1,000, and 50 percent of the next thousand. The plan in Congress only provides two-thirds of a person's paycheck, which means that many workers couldn't afford to take time off. Hopefully this new measure becomes law and provides real protection for workers in Washington, DC. And, hopefully it will inspire Congress to improve their proposed family leave legislation as well.

While Democrats are working to provide college students with real relief, Republicans just want to give the banksters another big handout. Last week, Republican Senators Kelly Ayotte and Shelley Moore introduced the so-called "Student Loan Relief Act," which has more to do with helping banks than any real relief for students. That legislation would allow students to refinance their loans at private banks, but it wouldn't require those banks to take on any of the risk. Those loans would still be guaranteed by the federal government, but it would banks, instead of taxpayers, who rake in all that interest. And, it would leave students vulnerable to the scams and schemes of the banking industry. All we have to do is look to the homeowners who were the victims of illegal foreclosures to see why this proposal would be horrible for students. If Republicans really want to provide students with relief, they should help make public college free for all students - it's that simple.

New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippmann is refusing to wait on Congress to reform our broken bail system. Last week, Judge Lippmann said, "Defendants who are unable to post bail serve a sentence before their cases are ever resolved." And, he added, "They do so regardless of innocence or guilt, and the harm that this injustice causes is intolerable." That's why Judge Lippmann announced that he will use his legal authority to set up automatic bail reviews for everyone brought in for misdemeanor charges. Although he can't change national policy, Judge Lippman's new guidelines will require all New York state judges reconsider bail amounts within 10 days, and he will urge them to consider affordable alternatives to high bail costs as well. He said, "It is fundamentally unfair for a person's liberty to be all about how much money you have." And he is exactly right. Our entire Justice System is biased against those who can't afford a strong defense, and Judge Lippman's policy is one strong step towards re-balancing the scales of justice.

And finally... The Fight for $15 movement has declared victory in cities and states all around our nation. But, that doesn't mean that the group is done fighting for workers rights. While the continue to work on lifting wages for underpaid Americans throughout the country, they're also teaching workers the benefits of forming a union. Thanks to that hard work, more low-paid workers than ever support unions. According to a recent Gallup poll, 72 percent of underpaid workers approve of unions and believe that labor groups can make a real difference in whether or not they get raises. That percentage is higher than any recorded study conducted by Gallup since 1959, and that may be because of the amazing work the Fight for 15 movement has done in our country. That group of workers has seen the value of standing together, and that's a good thing for the labor movement in our nation. Republicans have been chipping away at our bargaining rights for some time, but it looks like they've met their match. The Fight for 15 will keep working for living wages, and keep inspiring workers to fight for what they deserve.

And that's the way it is - for the week of October 12, 2015 - I'm Thom Hartmann - on the Economic and Labor News.

News Mon, 12 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Even The Wall Street Journal Is Asking Questions About How Ownership Should Work in a Democracy

The question of how the ownership of capital should be structured in a democratic society was raised by none other than Margaret Thatcher's authorized biographer.

Just three years ago, I worked with the staff at the Democracy Collaborative to write this article, which made a very basic point about the way systemic solutions to economic inequality were treated by the business paper of record, The Wall Street Journal.  As you can see, business structures that directly democratized ownership of the economy received short shrift:

2015 1012ch1

2015 1012ch2

But three years later, as the crisis of inequality continues to deepen - and after Piketty and Corbyn and Sanders and Pope Francis - the WSJ seems to have changed its tune.  The system question - that is, the question of how the ownership of capital should be structured in society that purports to be a democracy - is clearly on the table in a remarkable long essay published last month, written by the authorized biographer of Margaret Thatcher.

The piece begins with the simple imperative: "If Western countries want to disprove the dire forecasts of Karl Marx, we must think creatively about how to make the middle class more prosperous and secure."

Let that sink in for a minute. The threat, according to this featured piece in The Wall Street Journal, is not just Marxists and their ideas, but the possibility that they might be right about capitalism after all. The author strikes the same note in his conclusion:

 […] Marx did have an insight about the disproportionate power of the ownership of capital. The owner of capital decides where money goes, whereas the people who sell only their labor lack that power. This makes it hard for society to be shaped in their interests. In recent years, that disproportion has reached destructive levels, so if we don't want to be a Marxist society, we need to put it right.

And what is the alternative that this author sees as the way forward to avoid the hypothetical looming dictatorship of the proletariat?  Simply put, the author insists that we need to "take ownership much more seriously," and put democratic control back into corporate governance:

Why are so few companies owned by the people who work for them, and why do both liberal and conservative political parties not offer greater incentives, such as tax advantages, for this to change? It is extraordinary that the joint stock company, the foundation of modern commercial and industrial wealth, is still so little influenced by the views of shareholders. This is perhaps most evident in the preposterous salaries paid, particularly in the U.S. and Britain, to top executives of public companies. If the owners of these companies truly exercised authority over what is theirs, this wouldn't happen. If these enterprises had grown over the last 20 years at the same rate as pay for the men who run them (it usually still is men), no one would be talking of a crisis of capitalism.

But even more strikingly, the author goes beyond the idea of shareholder democracy, and insists on a large-scale push to imagine and implement the democratization of wealth, not through redistribution, but through newly revitalized forms of cooperative and democratized ownership and control of our economic institutions:

The Victorians were more imaginative than we are about principles of mutuality - credit unions, building societies, the cooperative movement. Such organizations feel creakier in an age when people want larger sums, faster. But is it really beyond the skill of our great modern business brains to develop these concepts and adapt them to modernity?

Admittedly, this is a single article that does little in the long run to correct the systemic bias revealed in the graphs above: The WSJ is by no means running regular coverage of the growing number of experiments in community wealth building and democratized cooperative ownership that are emerging throughout the nation (yet).

But the oddity of the WSJ, bastion of capitalism's most defended ideological heights, running such a forceful indictment of the current system and its tendency to reproduce and deepen levels of inequality inimical to democracy cannot be ignored: The system question may not quite be on the table in the mainstream media in the way it ultimately needs to be, but it's getting close.

News Mon, 12 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Final Leaked TPP Text Is All That We Feared

President Barack Obama sits next to Victoria Espinel, left, president and chief executive of the software industry trade group BSA, and Bob Stallman, right, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, during a meeting with business leaders where the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal was discussed, at the Department of Agriculture in Washington, Oct. 6, 2015. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)President Barack Obama sits in a meeting with business leaders where the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal was discussed, at the Department of Agriculture in Washington, October 6, 2015. The TPP is the archetype of an agreement that exists only for the benefit of the entitled, politically powerfully lobbyists who have pushed it through to completion over the last eight years. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)

Last week's release by Wikileaks of what is believed to be the current and essentially final version of the intellectual property (IP) chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) confirms our worst fears about the agreement, and dashes the few hopes that we held out that its most onerous provisions wouldn't survive to the end of the negotiations.

Since we now have the agreed text, we'll be including some paragraph references that you can cross-reference for yourself - but be aware that some of them contain placeholders like "x" that may change in the cleaned-up text. Also, our analysis here is limited to the copyright and Internet-related provisions of the chapter, but analyses of the impacts of other parts of the chapter have been published by Wikileaks and others.

Binding Rules for Rightsholders, Soft Guidelines for Users

If you skim the chapter without knowing what you're looking for, it may come across as being quite balanced, including references to the need for IP rules to further the "mutual advantage of producers and users" (QQ.A.X), to "facilitate the diffusion of information" (QQ.A.Z), and recognizing the "importance of a rich and accessible public domain" (QQ.B.x). But that's how it's meant to look, and taking this at face value would be a big mistake.

If you dig deeper, you'll notice that all of the provisions that recognize the rights of the public are non-binding, whereas almost everything that benefits rightsholders is binding. That paragraph on the public domain, for example, used to be much stronger in the first leaked draft, with specific obligations to identify, preserve and promote access to public domain material. All of that has now been lost in favor of a feeble, feel-good platitude that imposes no concrete obligations on the TPP parties whatsoever.

Another, and perhaps the most egregious example of this bias against users is the important provision on limitations and exceptions to copyright (QQ.G.17). In a pitifully ineffectual nod towards users, it suggests that parties "endeavor to achieve an appropriate balance in its copyright and related rights system," but imposes no hard obligations for them to do so, nor even offers U.S.-style fair use as a template that they might follow. The fact that even big tech was ultimately unable to move the USTR on this issue speaks volumes about how utterly captured by Hollywood the agency is.

Expansion of Copyright Terms

Perhaps the biggest overall defeat for users is the extension of the copyright term to life plus 70 years (QQ.G.6), despite a broad consensus that this makes no economic sense, and simply amounts to a transfer of wealth from users to large, rights-holding corporations. The extension will make life more difficult for libraries and archives, for journalists, and for ordinary users seeking to make use of works from long-dead authors that rightfully belong in the public domain.

Could it have been worse? In fact, yes it could have; we were spared a 120 year copyright term for corporate works, as earlier drafts foreshadowed. In the end corporate works are to be protected for 70 years after publication or performance, or if they are not published within 25 years after they were created, for 70 years after their creation. This could make a big difference in practice. It means that the film Casablanca, probably protected in the United States until 2038, would already be in the public domain in other TPP countries, even under a life plus 70 year copyright term.

New to the latest text are the transition periods in Section J, which allow some countries a longer period for complying with some of their obligations, including copyright term. For example, Malaysia has been allowed two years to extend its copyright term to life plus 70 years. For Vietnam, the transition period is five years. New Zealand is the country receiving the most "generous" allowance; its term will increase to life plus 60 years initially, rising to the full life plus 70 year term within eight years. Yet Canada, on the other hand, has not been given any transition period at all.

Ban on Circumventing Digital Rights Management (DRM)

The provisions in QQ.G.10 that prohibit the circumvention of DRM or the supply of devices for doing so are little changed from earlier drafts, other than that the opposition of some countries to the most onerous provisions of those drafts was evidently to no avail. For example, Chile earlier opposed the provision that the offense of DRM circumvention is to be "independent of any infringement that might occur under the Party's law on copyright and related rights," yet the final text includes just that requirement.

The odd effect of this is that someone tinkering with a file or device that contains a copyrighted work can be made liable (criminally so, if wilfullness and a commercial motive can be shown), for doing so even when no copyright infringement is committed. Although the TPP text does allow countries to pass exceptions that allow DRM circumvention for non-infringing uses, such exceptions are not mandatory, as they ought to be.

The parties' flexibility to allow DRM circumvention also requires them to consider whether rightsholders have already taken measures to allow those non-infringing uses to be made. This might mean that rightsholders will rely on the walled-garden sharing capabilities built in to their DRM systems, such as Ultraviolet, to oppose users being granted broader rights to circumvent DRM.

Alongside the prohibition on circumvention of DRM is a similar prohibition (QQ.G.13) on the removal of rights management information, with equivalent civil and criminal penalties. Since this offense is, once again, independent of the infringement of copyright, it could implicate a user who crops out an identifying watermark from an image, even if they are using that image for fair use purposes and even if they otherwise provide attribution of the original author by some other means.

The distribution of devices for decrypting encrypted satellite and cable signals is also separately proscribed (QQ.H.9), posing a further hazard to hackers wishing to experiment with or to repurpose broadcast media.

Criminal Enforcement and Civil Damages

On damages, the text (QQ.H.4) remains as bad as ever: rightsholders can submit "any legitimate measure of value" to a judicial authority for determination of damages, including the suggested retail price of infringing goods. Additionally, judges must have the power to order pre-established damages (at the rightsholder's election), or additional damages, each of which may go beyond compensating the rightsholder for its actual loss, and thereby create a disproportionate chilling effect for users and innovators.

No exception to these damages provisions is made in cases where the rightsholder cannot be found after a diligent search, which puts the kibosh on ideas for the introduction of an orphan works regime that would cap remedies available against those who reproduce these otherwise-unavailable works.

One of the scariest parts of the TPP is that not only can you be made liable to fines and criminal penalties, but that any materials and implements used in the creation of infringing copies can also be destroyed (QQ.H.4(12)). The same applies to devices and products used for circumventing DRM or removing rights management information (QQ.H.4(17)). Because multi-use devices such as computers are used for a diverse range of purposes, this is once again a disproportionate penalty. This could lead to a family's home computer becoming seized simply because of its use in sharing files online, or for ripping Blu-Ray movies to a media center.

In some cases (QQ.H.7), the penalties for copyright infringement can even include jail time. Traditionally, this has because the infringer is operating a business of commercial piracy. But under the TPP, any act of willful copyright infringement on a commercial scale renders the infringer liable to criminal penalties, even if they were not carried out for financial gain, provided that they have a substantial prejudicial impact on the rightsholder. The copying of films that are still playing in movie theaters is also subject to separate criminal penalties, regardless of the scale of the infringement.

Trade Secrets

The severity of the earlier language on trade secrets protection has not been abated in the final text. It continues to criminalize those who gain "unauthorized, willful access to a trade secret held in a computer system," without any mandatory exception for cases where the information is accessed or disclosed in the public interest, such as by investigative journalists or whistleblowers.

There is no evident explanation for the differential treatment given to trade secrets accessed or misappropriated by means of a computer system, as opposed to by other means; but it is no surprise to find the U.S. pushing such a technophobic provision, which mirrors equivalent provisions of U.S. law that have been used to persecute hackers for offenses that would otherwise have been considered much more minor.

Top-Down Control of the Internet

ICANN, the global domain name authority, provoked a furore earlier this year over proposals that could limit the ability for owners of domain names to shield their personal information from copyright and trademark trolls, identity thieves, scammers and harassers.

The TPP has just ridden roughshod over that entire debate (at least for country-code top-level domains such as .us, .au and .jp), by cementing in place rules (QQ.C.12) that countries must provide "online public access to a reliable and accurate database of contact information concerning domain-name registrants."

The same provision also requires countries to adopt an equivalent to ICANN's flawed Uniform Domain-Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), despite the fact that this controversial policy is overdue for a formal review by ICANN, which might result in the significant revision of this policy. Where would this leave the TPP countries, that are locked in to upholding a UDRP-like policy for their own domains for the indefinite future?

The TPP's prescription of rules for domain names completely disregards the fact that most country code domain registries have their own, open, community-driven processes for determining rules for managing domain name disputes. More than that, this top-down rulemaking on domain names is in direct contravention of the U.S. administration's own firmly-stated commitment to uphold the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance. Obviously, Internet users cannot trust the administration that it means what it says when it gives lip-service to multi-stakeholder governance - and that has ramifications that go even even deeper than this terrible TPP deal.

ISP Liability

The provisions on ISP liability (Appendix Section I), as we previously found in the last leaked text, are not quite as permissive as we hoped. It will still require most countries to adopt a version of the flawed U.S. DMCA notice-and-takedown system, albeit with a few safeguards such as penalties for those who issue wrongful takedown notices, and allowing (but not requiring) a Japanese-style system of verification of takedown notices by an independent body of ISPs and rightsholders.

It is true that Canada's notice-and-notice regime is also allowed, but effectively only for Canada - no other country that did not have an equivalent system as of the date of the agreement is allowed to benefit from that flexibility. Even in Canada's case, this largesse is only afforded because of the other enforcement measures that rightsholders enjoy there - such as a tough regime of secondary liability for authorization of copyright infringement.

Similarly Chile's system under which ISPs are not required to take down content without a judicial order is explicitly grandfathered in, but no other country joining the TPP in the future will be allowed to have a similar system.

In addition, although there is no explicit requirement for a graduated response regime of copyright penalties against users, ISPs are still roped in as copyright enforcers with the vague requirement (Appendix Section 1) that they be given "legal incentives…to cooperate with copyright owners to deter the unauthorized storage and transmission of copyrighted materials or, in the alternative, to take other action to deter the unauthorized storage and transmission of copyright materials".

Good Points?

Quite honestly there are no parts of this agreement that are positively good for users. Of course, that doesn't mean that it's not improved over the earlier, horrendous demands of the U.S. negotiators. Some of the areas in which countries rightly pushed back against the U.S., and which are reflected in the final text are:

  • The exhaustion of rights provision (QQ.A.11) that upholds the first sale doctrine of U.S. law, preventing copyright owners from extending their control over the resale of copyright works once they have first been placed in the market. In particular, this makes parallel importation of cheaper versions of copyright works lawful - and complementing this is an explicit authorization of devices that bypass region-coding on physical copies of such works (QQ.G.10, though this does not extend to bypassing geoblocking of streaming services).
  • A thoroughly-misguided provision that would have extended copyright protection to temporary or "buffer" copies in a computer system was one of the earliest rightsholder demands dropped by the USTR, and rightfully so, given the damage this would have wreaked to tech companies and users alike.

But we have struggled to come up with more than two positive points about the TPP, and even then the absence of these tragic mistakes is a pretty poor example of a positive point. If you look for provisions in the TPP that actually afford new benefits to users, rather than to large, rights-holding corporations, you will look in vain. The TPP is the archetype of an agreement that exists only for the benefit of the entitled, politically powerfully lobbyists who have pushed it through to completion over the last eight years.

There is nothing in here for users and innovators to support, and much for us to fear - the ratcheting up of the copyright term across the Pacific rim, the punitive sanctions for DRM circumvention, and the full frontal attack on hackers and journalists in the trade secrets provision, just to mention three. This latest leak has confirmed our greatest fears - and strengthened our resolve to kill this agreement for good once it reaches Congress.

News Mon, 12 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Getting the Export-Import Bank to Pay Dividends

President Barack Obama meets with lawmakers and business owners to rally support for the renewal of the Export-Import Bank, at the White House in Washington, July 22, 2015. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)President Barack Obama meets with lawmakers and business owners to rally support for the renewal of the Export-Import Bank, at the White House in Washington, July 22, 2015. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)

The Export-Import Bank is one of those issues like the TARP, the 2008 bank bailout. The big money types really want it, and they are going to keep pressing Congress until it gets it right and reauthorizes the bank.

Those of us who don't think it's the best use of government money to give subsidized loans to some of the largest companies in the world have to recognize political reality. With enough campaign contributions on the table, Congress will eventually vote to approve the money. But there is no reason that we can't look to have some fun in the process.

Of course it already has been fun. We have people who are ostensibly tough-minded advocates of the market and market discipline telling us that if we don't give government subsidies to huge companies, it will cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs and increase our trade deficit. We've even had people like New York Times columnist Joe Nocera and North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp call opposition to the bank "idiotic." It's hard to disagree with such compelling arguments.

But if we can step back from the name-calling and get to the substance, the basic points are very simple. The Ex-Im Bank allows large companies to benefit by getting loans at below market interest rates by taking advantage of the federal government's solid gold credit rating. The economic cost of these loans is the money being diverted from other potential borrowers. Because the Ex-Im Bank allows General Electric and Boeing to borrow more money, there is less money available for other companies and new start-ups.

In terms of exports and trade deficits, the way economists would ordinarily tell the story is that the exports from Boeing and General Electric are crowding out other exports. If the Ex-Im Bank didn't subsidize their exports, there would be less foreign demand for dollars. This would lead to a lower valued dollar. The lower dollar makes our goods and services cheaper to foreigners, allowing other companies to export more to our trading partners.

But Congress and the supporters of the Ex-Im Bank are not listening to economic arguments. They are responding to the power of the small number of companies who always account for the overwhelming majority of the money lent or guaranteed by the Ex-Im Bank. So let's work with them, recognizing their limitations.

Suppose as a condition of Ex-Im Bank subsidies we put a limit on CEO pay. A generous figure might be $4 million a year, ten times what the president makes, and roughly 100 times the pay of a typical worker. The idea would be that this would be an absolute cap on the compensation of a CEO or any other employee of a company getting loans or guarantees through the Ex-Im Bank. Compensation includes not just straight pay, but benefits, options and all the various "performance-related" compensation pay given out to top executives.

Since the bank's supporters have assured us that renewal of the bank is about jobs for US workers, it shouldn't be too much to ask the top executives of these bank companies to get by on just ten times what the president earns in order to save tens of thousands of jobs. It might even be "idiotic" if they couldn't accept that sacrifice.

When we look at the money at issue in this sort of trade-off, the numbers become even more striking. Jeffery Immelt, the CEO at General Electric made $37.2 million last year. If we capped his compensation at $4 million it would have saved the company $33.2 million. The savings would undoubtedly be considerably more if we lowered the pay of other top executives to $4 million.

Suppose that GE gets $3 billion in loans or guarantees from the Ex-Im Bank. If we assume that the subsidy saves the company roughly 1.0 percentage points compared to the market interest rate, then it comes to $30 million a year. This means that the difference between Mr. Immelt's current salary and the $4 million cap proposed here actually exceeds the subsidy provided by the Ex-Im Bank. The 350 GE workers in Wisconsin, who are facing the loss of their jobs, ostensibly because GE can't get subsidies from the Ex-Im Bank, may want to think about this arithmetic.

Anyhow, if we have to give handouts to big corporations, it seems reasonable to put some conditions on the cash. After all, we put all sorts of conditions on TANF benefits of $500 a month, it seems reasonable to ask something of the companies that get tens of millions of loan subsidies through the Ex-Im Bank. This should be a great opportunity to see where people really stand.        

Opinion Mon, 12 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Lakota Women and Ranchers Lead Charge to Break Silence Against Uranium Mine

Thousands of active uranium wells at the Crow Butte Resources mine in Crawford, Nebraska. (WNV / Rosy Torres)Thousands of active uranium wells at the Crow Butte Resources mine in Crawford, Nebraska. (Photo: WNV / Rosy Torres)

With a population of around 1,000 people, the rural town of Crawford, Nebraska was an unlikely setting for a federal hearing, but it became the site of one in late August thanks to the dogged determination of a group of Lakota and environmental activists, as well as geologists, hydrologists and lawyers - all of whom have been fighting the permit renewal of a uranium mine located in town.

The region is ripe with stories from the brutal Indian wars, when Lakota and neighboring tribes fought over western expansion. Today, this intersection of frontier America and Native resistance is a battleground in the war between environmental advocates and energy corporations, only this time allies from all sides are joining forces in the effort to protect their water.

The Crow Butte Resources, or CBR, uranium mine is comprised of thousands of wells at the base of Crow Butte, a sacred site located within Lakota treaty territories. For the past couple decades CBR has mined uranium using the in situ leach process, which injects water under high pressure into aquifers, extracts uranium ore, and then processes it into yellow cake. Each year 700,000 pounds of uranium is produced here and shipped to Canada, where it is sold on the open market. CBR has applied for a permit renewal and expansions to three neighboring sites.

Cindy Meyers, a rancher and resident of central Nebraska, drove four hours to attend evidentiary hearings regarding the renewal of the mine's permit. It's not unusual for Meyers to travel with her own water, which she gets directly from a well on her land that's tapped into the Ogallala aquifer - considered the largest, underground freshwater source in the world, covering eight states from South Dakota to Texas. CBR uses Ogallala water to mine the uranium. "I keep bottles of the aquifer water in a cooler in my car," Meyers said. "This is what water is supposed to taste like. We call it sweet water." She notes the absence of a chemical taste often found in other drinking water. Cindy shares a large jar with her ally Debra White Plume. The two women met during their work to stop the Keystone XL pipeline in 2011. Both women share an understanding that once water is contaminated it can't be restored and a belief that pure water is worth protecting at all costs.

Debra White Plume (second from right) stands with the Sisterhood to Protect Sacred Water, lawyers and other supporters fighting to shut down Crow Butte Mine. (Photo: WNV / Rosy Torres)Debra White Plume (second from right) stands with the Sisterhood to Protect Sacred Water, lawyers and other supporters fighting to shut down Crow Butte Mine. (Photo: WNV / Rosy Torres)

Debra White Plume is a Lakota grandmother who was raised on the treaty territories of the Pine Ridge Reservation located across the border in South Dakota. She shares the Lakota worldview that water is sacred. About 10 years ago, White Plume began to notice a rise in illnesses and premature deaths among her neighbors. She heard about wells testing high for radiation, arsenic and lead. This information concerned White Plume, who lives on hundreds of acres of family land and relies on her wells for drinking water. She is an experienced researcher and organizer from decades spent protecting the nearby Black Hills, sacred sites and preserving the Lakota way of life. During her research, through ceremonies, and prayer, she connected local contamination to the Crow Butte uranium mine located just outside reservation lands.

Early in 2008, White Plume was one of 11 individuals and organizations, including the Oglala Sioux Tribe, who filed to prevent the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC, from issuing a permit renewal to Crow Butte Resources. It's been a long, slow process of submitting documents, waiting on environmental impact studies and other delays. The hearing was the final step needed for the Atomic Licensing Board - which rules over the NRC - to make its determination on the permit. Under scrutiny were nine contentions raised by the Consolidated Interveners, as the plaintiffs are called. The contentions included the lack of scientific evidence used in the permit application, the contamination of rivers and aquifers, connections between the mine and the nearby Pine Ridge Reservation, insufficient cultural surveys and consultation with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the use of outdated and cherry-picked science, and insufficient groundwater restoration plans.

Seven years after filing the injunction, White Plume sat in the Crawford Community Center, waiting her turn to be sworn in as an expert witness. She stood with her right hand clasped around the jar of water Meyers had given her just a few minutes earlier. "Could you set your water down for a second, so you can raise your right hand?" Judge Gibson asked. "I am raising my right hand," White Plume responded, continuing to hold the water. The judge proceeded to swear in White Plume, who gave her "oath to the truth" on water.

Grouped together among the rows of empty seats were about a dozen CBR employees, handfuls of Lakota from the nearby Pine Ridge Reservation, a few elders from Crawford, and women from the Sisterhood to Protect Sacred Water - a local group concerned about long-term environmental, health and family issues resulting from the mine.

Local resident Nancy Kile was born and raised in Crawford and now lives 20 minutes east of town. "In 1991 and 1992, when CBR approached the town, we were still grieving the flood of our river and a big fire that damaged the area," she recalled. "A person died in that flood. It was a big deal for our community." Nancy believes the company preyed on the townspeople's grief and made a lot of false promises.

Older women were eager to share that they have been fighting CBR since their arrival in the town. "They promised us good and fair leases, that they would only stay 20 years and that they would leave the water and land exactly as it was when they arrived," recalled one grandmother who was urged by her family not to give her name. "They are trying to renew their permit and expand to three more sites. So, we know they lied to us."

Colleen Brennan and Nancy Kile of the Sisterhood to Protect Sacred Water rally outside the Nuclear Regulatory Hearings in Crawford. (Photo: WNV / Rosy Torres)Colleen Brennan and Nancy Kile of the Sisterhood to Protect Sacred Water rally outside the Nuclear Regulatory Hearings in Crawford. (Photo: WNV / Rosy Torres)

A few months ago, Kile and her sister Colleen Brennan grew tired of the lies they heard around town and founded the Sisterhood to Protect Sacred Water in order to give women a voice in the uranium debate. The two sisters noticed how men and youth talked about money and tax benefits when they discussed the uranium mill; and older women discussed health and human welfare, questioning high rates of cancer and premature deaths. The Sisterhood was inspired by the success of others, including White Plume and the Clean Water Alliance, who are fighting off efforts by Powertech/Azarga to open a uranium mine near the Black Hills. The Sisterhood spent the summer organizing the community, hosting screenings and educational events where people could safely share mine facts and concerns. They raised money to purchase "Protect Sacred Water, No Uranium Mining" yard signs and placed them around town. "We had some workers intimidate our allies, who put signs in their yard right in town. They immediately started calling and threatening their jobs, their persons," Kile said.

She lamented the lack of turnout by the local community at the hearings. "You would think it would be packed, but people are isolated in this community around the uranium milling," she said. "It's like a culture of silence. People are scared. They are worried about being shunned by families. They're worried about their jobs." Many in Crawford are self-employed and spoke off the record of CBR employees visiting their businesses to give reminders of their patronage and that it would be best to avoid the hearing. Others mentioned being told that Indians were coming to town to cause problems or incite violence.

White Plume sympathized with the fear of Crawford residents. "The uranium corporation has been here long enough to embed itself in the community as an economic support, while holding people in economic bondage in terms of choosing between a job and fresh, uncontaminated water," she said. Nevertheless, White Plume, who has worked for the last decade to educate her family and community about the dangers of uranium mining, sees the issue as cut and dry. "You're either for it or against it." White Plume notes there are other ways to get energy - wind, solar and industrial hemp - but there is no way to filter radiation in water.

Kile likened the situation to what she's experienced in her life working with domestic violence survivors, saying, "No one wants to know. Denial is so deep. And then people are ashamed because there are experts here who know what's going on."

The late summer heat and a faulty air conditioner made the community center stuffy. Nevertheless, the three Atomic License Board judges spent careful time unraveling CBR's permit application, often expressing concern over the lack of tribal consultation, faulty cultural site surveys, use of outdated science (some geological models were from 1937), or tornado calculations from 100 miles away.

Tom Ballanco, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, explained that the NRC's role is to protect the public's safety and security when it comes to handling this dangerous and toxic material. "The NRC is tasked with monitoring and minimizing any risks associated with uranium and having such a dire responsibility, we feel like they need to pay more attention than we've seen in the past," he said. Ballanco went on to note that "in a somewhat controversial move" the NRC staff has already issued the license in advance of the ruling.

Debra White Plume (with Lakota cultural experts) prepares to testify at the Nuclear Regulatory Commissions’ hearings. (Photo: WNV / Rosy Torres)Debra White Plume (with Lakota cultural experts) prepares to testify at the Nuclear Regulatory Commissions' hearings. (Photo: WNV / Rosy Torres)

White Plume felt the hearing was thorough, saying, "I didn't expect the Atomic Licensing Board to go to the levels they did. I'm really pleased with how they peeled away the layers of the onion as to the NRC involvement with Cameco Corporation [the parent company to Crow Butte Resources]. To me it appeared as an alliance and collaboration, versus the NRC being a public protector of health and water in the United States."

White Plume is optimistic that the townspeople will learn of the dangers of the uranium mine, its impact on their water and the future of their town. "I have a lot of hope that they lose fear, take courage and develop the sense that they are obligated to question authority," she said. "In this town that means [questioning] Cameco and the NRC."

The Atomic License Board judges will host a conference call in mid-October to answer remaining questions. Although the NRC gave preliminary permit approval to CBR, the judges have the final ruling, which is expected to be granted in early spring.

Kile believes people will become more involved with the Sisterhood once they are educated. She will share information with those who missed the hearing. Kile said their work will take place at old-fashioned kitchen tables, and involved listening to stories, reading handouts, and watching video recorded at the hearing. She recognized that trust is necessary to empower the town to stand up to the mine. "Our town has been silenced," she said. "Silence is violence in this community. That's what it feels like to me. It feels like they are raping my homeland."

Kile was emotional as she shared her hope for the community, which is to see it "grow and show up for each other." Ultimately, she wants people to feel safe and come out. If that happens, she explained, "We will continue to grow resistance and shut that thing down."

News Mon, 12 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
For US Tribes, a Movement to Revive Native Foods and Lands

Traditional wild rice harvesting on a restored Fond du Lac reservation lake in northern Minnesota. (Photo: Cheryl Katz)Traditional wild rice harvesting on a restored Fond du Lac reservation lake in northern Minnesota. (Photo: Cheryl Katz)

On ancestral lands, the Fond du Lac band in Minnesota is planting wild rice and restoring wetlands damaged by dams, industry and logging. Their efforts are part of a growing trend by Native Americans to bring back traditional food sources and heal scarred landscapes.

Two by two, the wild rice harvesters emerge from the grass-filled lake and drag their canoes to shore. The harvesters, Lake Superior Chippewa, are reaping their ancestral food in the traditional way - one poling the boat through the waist-high tangle, and the other bending the stems and gently brushing ripe seed loose with a pair of batons. It's hard, dirty work on a steamy Minnesota late-summer day. They're caked with chaff and sweat.

But the canoes are loaded with the sacred grain they call manoomin. It was a good harvest, they say.

For decades, this lake on the reservation of the Fond du Lac band of Lake Superior Chippewa, near Duluth, was choked with weeds and produced little of the so-called wild rice that once blanketed the upper Great Lakes. Huge swaths of the nutritious native plant - not actually rice but an annual aquatic grass (genus Zizania) - were reduced to remnants by dams, industry, logging, and other disruptive land uses over the past century-and-a-half.

But with a blend of ancestral knowledge, modern equipment, and cutting-edge expertise, Fond du Lac natural resource specialists are bringing back the "food that grows on water." Reservation lakes will yield an estimated 30,000 pounds this year, feeding families and hosting ceremonies with the delicacy that tribal legend says was prophesied to their ancestors. Their approach has been so successful that the band is now leading the first major state, federal, and non-profit collaboration to restore part of Lake Superior's former vast wild rice ecosystem.

The earthy grain prized by epicureans is fundamental to the indigenous people, also called Ojibwe or Anishinaabeg, who flank the Great Lakes from Michigan to Minnesota. "It's in every bit of our way of life," says Thomas Howes, the Fond du Lac natural resources manager, sitting on the gunwhale of a canoe filled with the bright green spikelets he has just finished harvesting. "That's why you see Ojibwe people make this degree of effort."

One group is restoring mountain meadows that tribes maintained for generations in California's Sierra National Forest.

Similar efforts are underway by native communities across North America. From restoring salmon nurseries in the Pacific Northwest, to rebuilding caribou herds in the Canadian Rockies, to removing New England dams blocking alewives and sturgeon from their historic runs, tribes are reviving traditional food sources and healing scarred lands, both on and off reservations. The path isn't easy - tribal projects face daunting obstacles, including a crazy-quilt of property rights, circumscribed jurisdictions, and conflicts with neighbors over visions for the land. But their centuries of practical knowledge and cultural focus provide valuable guidance for stewards of the environment today.

"There has been a new movement by indigenous people to restore tribal lands and resources," says Darren Ranco, an anthropology professor at the University of Maine in Orono, and a member of the Penobscot Nation, which is realizing an ambitious goal of reopening fish freeways on the dam-choked Penobscot River. "There's also been a reimagined focus on food and food sovereignty."

The movement was bolstered by 1970s court decisions increasing tribal resource rights, 1980s expansion of environmental quality legislation, and an infusion of money after Indian gaming was legalized in 1988. Now, a new generation of Native American scientists, attorneys, and politically savvy advocates are bringing their expertise back to the reservation, joining government and conservation coalitions and procuring grants.

"That's brought some really important solutions to the table that probably weren't there before," says Ranco, who directs the university's Native American Research program. "The Western tradition was continually marginalizing indigenous knowledge and values, and no longer is that happening. ... At least it's not happening as much."


Near the union of the St. Louis River and Duluth - the Great Lakes' largest industrial port - Fond du Lac resource specialist Terry Perrault is coaxing the waters into producing their first wild rice harvest in more than 100 years. The site of former Ojibwe villages, this was once the largest single wild rice stand in the region, holding an estimated 3,000 acres.

Wild rice (Zizania) is actually not rice, but a native aquatic grass. (Photo: Cheryl Katz)Wild rice (Zizania) is actually not rice, but a native aquatic grass. (Photo: Cheryl Katz)

Perrault stands on the deck of the tribe's fan boat in a tapering rain, showing young Minnesota Conservation Corps workers how to spread rice seed over a choppy gray expanse. "You used to do all this by canoe," he tells them. "Paddle all the way out, paddle all the way back. It's a lot easier now."

The 1,600 pounds of seed they're spreading this early September day were harvested by Fond du Lac ricers just a day earlier. The band's rice experts selected this particular strain for hardiness in the estuary's tide-like water fluctuations, called seche, which can raise and lower water by two or more feet daily.

Changes in water level can uproot or drown young rice plants at their tender "floating leaf stage" before they stand upright, explains Perrault, who had spent the bulk of the summer hacking through pondweed, arrowhead, and other tenacious weeds with a truck-sized aquatic mower. They'll do it again next year, and the rice could take up to five years to become established. The 150-acre project, which will expand to perhaps 1,500 acres eventually, is part of the massive, multi-agency Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The St. Louis River, which includes a Superfund site contaminated by steel and cement manufacturing, along with former coal docks, chemical plants, ship building and more, was designated one of the nation's 10 Most Endangered Rivers this year by the conservation group American Rivers.

For tribes, one of the biggest challenges is that their restoration vision is not always shared by their neighbors.

Bringing back wild rice is integral to the St. Louis River project because it's a "really key component" of the wetlands ecosystem in the upper Midwest, says Daryl Peterson, director of restoration programs for the nonprofit Minnesota Land Trust, a project partner. It's a critical food source for migrating waterfowl, ripening just in time for the fall migration. And for local wildlife, "it's a keystone species because it's such a prolific seed producer," Peterson says.

Numerous other environmental efforts around the country are also taking cues from native traditions. One is bringing back mountain meadows that tribes maintained for generations in what's now California's Sierra National Forest. The moist, fire-resistant clearings - critical in the region's current matchstick conditions - have become crowded with invasive young pines, firs, and cedars that provide "a step-ladder for fire," says Ron Goode, North Fork Mono tribal chairman. Moreover, the thirsty conifers soak up water and keep it out of the watershed, he adds.

So Goode and tribe members launched a demonstration meadow restoration for the U.S. Forest Service and local officials. The former meadow "was overgrown with scotch broom, invasives, and people dumping their trash there," Goode says. "Over the years it had become quite a mess." It took nearly a month to clean up, hauling off truckload after truckload of trash and wood. But in the end they opened the 5-acre meadow and revealed steams. The success brought grant money and requests for more restorations, he says. The tribe has now restored three meadows, covering 15 acres, and has several more restoration projects underway.

In the Pacific Northwest, indigenous communities have been working for years to bring back the salmon and trout that once teemed in the Columbia River basin. The Columbia, one of the most heavily dammed and industrialized rivers on the continent, is also on American Rivers' top ten endangered list. The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, a coalition of tribes with fishing rights on the river, has adopted a "gravel-to-gravel management approach concerned with all the issues impacting salmon throughout their life," says Sara Thompson, spokeswoman for the commission. The tribes, working with state and federal biologists and conservation groups, have restored habitat and taken other steps that have helped Chinook populations rebound.

"Rice supported our lives for generations, and so you're doing things right if it's around," says one tribal member.

Despite mounting success stories, Native American environmental endeavors face a number of hurdles.

"For tribes, one of the biggest challenges is that their restoration vision is not always shared by their neighbors," says Catherine O'Neill, a law professor and senior fellow at Seattle University's Center for Indian Law and Policy. State pollution laws are often inadequate for native people, whose diets can expose them to far higher levels of toxic contaminants than the general population, so some tribes have set tougher standards in their jurisdictions, she said. Washington's Spokane tribe, for instance, whose members eat much more fish than state water-quality regulations take into account, has established the nation's strictest standards for its own waters. But a bid to increase the amount of pollution discharge allowed in neighboring Idaho now threatens the Spokanes' downstream fishery, she says.

Tribes can also butt heads with activists on both sides of the environmental spectrum.

"Some of the conservation groups don't want any [fish and animal] harvest," says Barbara Harper, a public health toxicologist and professor at the Oregon State College of Public Health in Corvallis, who has worked on a number of tribal projects. "And of course the sportsmen groups, that's all they're interested in. And the tribes are kind of in-between."

The Fond du Lac band's projects face several obstacles, natural resource manager Howes says. Rebuilding the reservation wetlands, which were confined to ditches during a state push to increase farmlands in the early 1900s, is hindered by a checkerboard of state, county, and private land ownership. Old dams continue to disrupt water flow. And tribal attorneys and scientists have been keeping a watchful eye on proposed copper-nickel mining in the nearby Duluth Complex, which they fear could release sulfides and other pollutants harmful to wild rice and the watershed.

Looking out over wild rice-studded waters, where a wood duck dabbles and blackbirds flit through the prolific stalks, Howes says, "This supported our lives for generations, and so we see it as like a debt to repay, to take care of it. ... You're doing things right if it's around."

News Mon, 12 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
In the Land of My Ancestors: Native Woman Stands Her Ground in Ohlone Territory

Ann Marie Sayers is a rare example of a Native woman who continues to live in her ancestral land. California Indians suffered a brutal history of colonization, diseases and heinous violence and servitude during the Gold Rush and California Missions era.

Anne Marie Sayers."I am living my dream to live in the same home site of my ancestors," said Anne Marie Sayers. "I can literally feel my ancestors dancing when there is a ceremony going on." (Photo: Rucha Chitnis)

Also see: Winnemem Wintu Fight for Cultural Survival in Northern California

Ann Marie Sayers walks by Cottonwood and Sycamore trees, stopping to examine poison oak. She gently cradles the leaves. "They don't bother me. I have a relationship with them," she says. And this relationship, Sayers knows, spans millennia. She is right at home in Indian Canyon, the only federally recognized Indian country for over 300 miles from Sonoma to the coast of Santa Barbara. "I was born and raised in the Indian Canyon. My umbilical chord was buried here," she says.

As a Costanoan Ohlone, Sayers is a rare example of a Native woman who continues to live in her ancestral land. California Indians suffered a brutal history of colonization, diseases and heinous violence and servitude during the Gold Rush and California Missions era. "This is the most exciting time to be alive as a California Indian since contact," she says. "In 1854 alone, the government spent 1.4 million - $5 a head, 50 cents a scalp for professional Indian killers." As the population of Natives precipitously shrunk during the Gold Rush, the Canyon served as a safe haven for those who were able to find it after passing through a swamp.

The canyon is a mile long and has lush streams and a cascading waterfall when the rains are plentiful. Sayers used the Allotment Act of 1887 to reclaim land that had been in her family for centuries in the Indian Canyon. "The canyon is alive through the power of ceremonies," Sayers says. And she has taken to heart the painful history of religious persecution Native Americans endured, when they were prohibited from practicing their traditional spirituality until 1978. "My mother believed that when ceremonies stop, so does the Earth. And I do too. We opened up my great grandfather's trust allotment for all Indigenous Peoples who need traditional lands for ceremonies."

The canyon has a large arbor, where storytelling gatherings, cultural dances and ancient chants bring together Indigenous Peoples from around the world. The canyon receives thousands of visitors every year - from the Maoris of New Zealand to the Gwich'in of Alaska. "I can feel my ancestors dancing when there is ceremony," Sayers says. The canyon is also home to the Costanoan Indian Research, Inc., which has ancient tools and artifacts that were used by Ohlones and ancestors of Sayers.

"It seems the society today is absent of the sacred. Many places that should have remained have been destroyed," she says. Sayers has devoted her time to honor the legacy of her Ohlone ancestors and their sacred connection to land. Last year, she was involved in organizing efforts, where voters in San Benito County passed a measure to ban fracking.

Sayers remains committed to educating and empowering youth to reconnect their sacred relationship to Earth. "Today, people are shortsighted. When you make a decision, think how this will affect the next seven generations. And we need our youth to start thinking this way." Last year, Sayers was also instrumental in organizing "Ohlone Elders and Youth Speak: Restoring a California Legacy," an exhibit that illuminated the history of Ohlones and their efforts for cultural revitalization.

As we walk around the canyon, Sayers shares intimate stories of her family, and the canyon landscape and medicinal plants and trees dotting the property. "The Earth is alive. You can feel the energy. And it's a reason for living."

Indian Canyon is the only federally recognized Indian territory for over 300 miles from the coast of Sonoma to Santa Barbara. (Photo: Rucha Chitnis)Indian Canyon is the only federally recognized Indian territory for over 300 miles from the coast of Sonoma to Santa Barbara. (Photo: Rucha Chitnis)

Ann Marie Sayers was born and raised in Indian Canyon.Ann Marie Sayers was born and raised in Indian Canyon. "Since Native Americans did not have the right to practice their religion freely until 1978, and so I opened up my great grandfather's trust allotment for all Indigenous Peoples who are in need of traditional land for ceremonies," shared Sayers. (Photo: Rucha Chitnis)

(Photo: Rucha Chitnis)"My mother was a proud Indian woman. And she believed that when the ceremonies stop, so will the Earth," shared Sayers about her mother, Elena Sanchez Sayers. (Photo: Rucha Chitnis)

Indian Canyon served as a safe haven for Ohlone people, who faced racism and brutal violence during the Gold Rush. A large swamp hid the mouth of the canyon, and those that were able to find the path to the canyon were safe. (Photo: Rucha Chitnis)Indian Canyon served as a safe haven for Ohlone people, who faced racism and brutal violence during the Gold Rush. A large swamp hid the mouth of the canyon, and those that were able to find the path to the canyon were safe. (Photo: Rucha Chitnis)

The canyon has a large arbor, eight sweat lodges and sites for vision quests. The canyon receives thousands of visitors every year, who gather here for storytelling, workshops, ceremonies and vision quests. (Photo: Rucha Chitnis)The canyon has a large arbor, eight sweat lodges and sites for vision quests. The canyon receives thousands of visitors every year, who gather here for storytelling, workshops, ceremonies and vision quests. (Photo: Rucha Chitnis)

(Photo: Rucha Chitnis)"Nature deficit disorder is very real in this society. We are absent of the sacred, outside of money," remarked Sayers. (Photo: Rucha Chitnis)

(Photo: Rucha Chitnis)"They don't bother me. I have a relationship with them," said Sayers as she delicately touched the leaves of poison oak. (Photo: Rucha Chitnis)

(Photo: Rucha Chitnis)Sayers founded Costanoan Indian Research, Inc., to educate the public about the history of Ohlone people and raise awareness on the violent legacy of the California Mission system and the Gold Rush, as well as ongoing efforts for cultural revitalization. "We need truth in history," said Sayers. (Photo: Rucha Chitnis)

(Photo: Rucha Chitnis)The canyon has a small ethnographic museum that has ancient mortar and pestles, baskets and other artifacts that were used by Ohlone people. (Photo: Rucha Chitnis)

(Photo: Rucha Chitnis)Sayers has adorned her "Mother's Spirit Rock" with abalone shells. "My mother believed that when a burial is disturbed, the spirit of that individual is wandering until that individual is re-interred ceremonially," said Sayers, referring to the removal of Native American burials across the Bay Area to make way for shopping malls and housing development projects. (Photo: Rucha Chitnis)

(Photo: Rucha Chitnis)"Each bead is a prayer," shared Sayers, who also makes traditional jewelry in the canyon. (Photo: Rucha Chitnis)

(Photo: Rucha Chitnis)Last year, Sayers organized a gathering to honor nine Ohlone elders as part of an exhibit called Ohlone Elders and Youth Speak: Restoring a California Legacy. "We need truth in history. It's so important. The foundation of this country was built on the lives and death of Indians," said Sayers. (Photo: Rucha Chitnis)

(Photo: Rucha Chitnis)Sayers also offers the canyon to educate and empower youth to protect sacred sites and reconnect to their Native culture and spiritual traditions. "The Earth is alive. You can feel the energy. And it's a reason for living." (Photo: Rucha Chitnis)

Republished with permission from Indian Country Today Media Network, where it originally appeared on September 30.

News Mon, 12 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
As Confederate Flags Fall, Columbus Statues Stand Tall

There are Columbus statues and place names around the United States; only George Washington has more infrastructure named after him. As more people continue to become historically literate, the continued existence of these tributes has become more controversial and offensive to larger segments of the population.

A statue of Christopher Columbus in San Francisco, CA.A statue of Christopher Columbus in San Francisco, California. Columbus statues continue to stand tall as enduring symbols of racism beyond the reach of change. (Image: Columbus statue via Shutterstock)

South Carolina removed the Confederate battle flag from its statehouse grounds this summer. Walmart removed it from its stores. Virginia is removing it from vanity license plates. Ridding popular culture of this racist symbol is long overdue, considering the stars and bars first rose to support a treasonous rebellion in support of state-supported white supremacy, manifested in the most grotesque fashion as legally sanctioned enslavement, wanton murder, and rape of black Americans. The flag later had a resurgence beginning in the 1940s, with white supremacists raising it in opposition to civil rights and desegregation. It's not the Southern heritage of lemonade and hospitality that Confederate symbol represents, but this darker heritage of white privilege and the horrific subjugation of blacks - and no number of Dukes of Hazzard reruns can erase that.

Also this year, the Lancaster, New York school board voted unanimously to change the racist name of their high school sports teams. The original name began its life in the 19th century, referring to the dried scalp-skins of Native Americans which could be exchanged for cash by bounty hunters during a genocidal period of American history. Supporters of the racist name protested and, in a last-ditch effort to keep their town in the middle 1800s, imported a rather random Native American from South Dakota and a Cuban Indian impersonator from Connecticut to testify that they were okay with the racist moniker. The school board, however, feeling the tidal pull of the 21st century - and, probably more importantly, confronting a growing boycott of their teams by other schools - ditched the name. 

It seemed like we were finally confronting the enduring symbols of our racist past, albeit with tiny baby steps.

Pecca Vestra Exponuntur

Sometime over the Labor Day weekend, someone, or some group of people, painted a rather accurate history lesson on the City of Buffalo's Christopher Columbus statue, located in Columbus Park on the city's Lower West Side, adjacent to a neighborhood that hosts one of New York State's largest urban Native American communities. Three local TV news crews covered the story on September 7 (Time Warner Cable News) and 8 (WIVB and WGRZ), all contextualizing the incident as vandalism and asking viewers to snitch out the writers to police, with two reports broadcasting a tip line number.

The writers painted the word "rape" across the front of the statue's base, "slaver" on one side, "genocide" on another. Most interestingly, they wrote the Latin phrase "pecca vestra exponuntur," which translates to "your sins are exposed," across the back of the base. All three television crews chose to ignore this last message; one (WIVB) also ignored "slaver," while another (TWC) misstated it as "slave," which would reverse the meaning. None of the reporters expressed any understanding of the context of the story - why, in the run-up to Columbus Day, these messages appeared, or why other writers have been painting similar messages on this statue for decades.

To quickly recap the history behind the Columbus myth: The character of Christopher Columbus, "the great discoverer," was created in 1828 by the American writer, Washington Irving, as a piece of historical fiction based on the life of Cristóbal Colón. Colón, along with other members of the "voyages of discovery," kept logs and took meticulous notes in journals, leaving a strong record of evidence describing events from multiple perspectives. These logs and journals exist to this day in the Spanish archives and paint a pretty damning picture of Colón. Far from being the fabled explorer who argued to an unbelieving world that the earth was round, Colón actually lived out his life arguing that it was pear-shaped even though the concept of a round earth was well accepted by 1492. His most significant contribution to history was as the father of the transatlantic slave trade, who presided over a brutal reign of murder and rape shortly after arriving in the new world. 

When he did not find gold in the Caribbean, Colón looked for an alternative commodity to satisfy his investors and win funding for subsequent voyages. That commodity turned out to be his hosts, the Taino people. Colón, impressed by their friendliness, generosity, and peaceful nature, wrote in his journal that "They are the best people in the world and above all the gentlest." What this meant, he wrote, was that "with 50 men they could all be subjected and made to do all that one might wish." The Taino, he explained, were "fit to be ordered about, to sow, and do everything else that may be needed." 

Colón captured up what he described as "seven head of women, young ones and adults, and three small children" to bring back to Spain as cargo, along with exotic birds and fruits. This act by Colón, who claimed previous experience as a slave trader in Africa, laid the precedent and foundation for one of the darkest chapters in world history - the transatlantic slave trade, which, after most of the indigenous population in the Caribbean was worked to death or killed by genocide and disease, thrived bringing captured Africans to the Americas. The journals from Colón's voyages graphically document acts of rape and depraved brutality, beyond the pale even for 15th-century Europe. There is no place in any American city for a statue of this man, much less a holiday in his honor.

The TWC reporter sought his explanation for the Columbus statue "vandalism" from a confused passerby, who explained to viewers that the writers must be "ignorant people with small minds" who "do stupid things," which, he added, "doesn't make any sense." Seeking out folks for comment based solely on the fact that they are clueless on the subject matter seems to be a forte of Buffalo television news reporters.

The fact that news producers chose to broadcast this embarrassing idiocy speaks volumes not only about the crisis of journalism but about the epidemic of ignorance regarding issues of racism. One of the most noticeable aspects of white privilege is the privilege to remain ignorant of, or just not give a damn about, the persistence of racism. TWC's interview subject concluded that "The statue isn't bothering anybody and has been there for years." The ignorance exemplified by this reporting clues us in to why it's still there.

Boston's Anti-Columbus Gangstas

Of course Buffalo doesn't have a monopoly on bad journalism - or on Columbus statues. Earlier this summer someone covered part of Boston's Columbus statue in blood red paint, writing "Black Lives Matter" across its base. "Boston's News Leader," WCVB, also framed their televised story on the incident as one about "vandals" who "tagged" the statue, as if "Black Lives Matter" was an artist's tag rather than a message. Their story begins, "The paint has since been removed, but a lot of questions and frustration has been left behind." Their confused on-air interview subject goes on to ponder, "Why here? It just seems so out of place." The paint incident follows an earlier beheading of the same statue.

Adding to the reporter's seemingly insurmountable confusion was the fact, she reported, that "The vandalism follows numerous similar attacks on Confederate monuments across the South." Apparently unaware of the connection she just made, she went on to give a report about statues of historic Confederate racists recently being "defaced" in Texas, South Carolina, and Virginia, though, she explained, "It's not clear who is behind the vandalism," or, by inference, why someone would want to deface a racist symbol.

There are Columbus statues and place names around the United States; only George Washington has more cities, roads, parks, etc. named after him. As more people continue to become historically literate about the Colón legacy, the continued existence of these tributes has become more controversial and offensive to larger segments of the population.

In Buffalo, TWC interviewed Niagara District Councilman David Rivera on camera about the writing on the Columbus statue. Rivera promised, "We're going to be looking at what we can do to find the folks" who did the writing. The TWC reporter also claimed in their report that "with Columbus Day approaching next month, Rivera says the statue's historical value should still be respected." In an interview for this column, Rivera denies this interpretation of what he said, which doesn't appear on-camera on TWC's televised report. Instead he explained that he is fully aware of the history surrounding Colón and is sympathetic to complaints about the statue and the name of the park. 

Bring It On

Rivera went on to explain how the Buffalo City Council voted unanimously in June of this year to change the name of an island in the Niagara River from Squaw Island to Unity Island after Seneca Nation leaders complained about the racist and misogynist name - a name that dates back more than three centuries. Rivera's complaint about the painting of the Columbus statue, he reiterated, is against the method of protest, which he considers damaging public property, rather than the sentiment of the protest or the accuracy of the message. Yes, "Columbus" was a rapist and slaver, but the statue honoring his legacy is protected public property. Rivera suggests that activists protest legally and petition the city government with any demands or complaints regarding the statue.

Buffalo's Columbus statue, like others around the country, is literally anchored by a deep foundation. Once erected, it's hard to muster the funding and political capital to tear such things down, no matter what they represent and whom they offend. Rivera uses the Unity Island case, however, to argue that city government is open to responding to protests and petitions. What they would be willing to do, however, would likely depend on the strength of the protests and political threats generated by such protests. Anything is possible. The Unity Island name change came after more than three centuries. In historical terms, the Columbus statue, despite being anchored in stone, is just an adolescent, dating back only 63 years. 

Given our nation's history, many cities are saddled with such racist infrastructure. As the political class in the country becomes more diverse, there increase the demands to end the whitewashing of American history and challenge the mythology that distorts the teaching of history. How municipalities deal with this infrastructure is revealing. Government officials in Alabama still refuse to change the name of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, for example, despite the fact that the high-visibility bridge, scene to historic 1965 police attacks on civil rights protesters, is named after a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.

Plymouth Rocks

By contrast, the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts erected a monument near their historic rock, honoring the National Day of Mourning, which is a Native American alternative to Thanksgiving. Cast in bronze, the monument explains why many Native Americans don't celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims, referencing how, to Native Americans, Thanksgiving "is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture." The Plymouth monument goes on to explain that the national Day of Mourning honors "Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today…as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience." 

In a similar vein, Neto Hatinakwe Onkwehonwe, a Native American arts and cultural organization, erected a monument in Buffalo at a public park at the mouth of Lake Erie. The Neto monument offers an alternative to an older municipal monument emblazoned with a historically contentious narrative about warlike Indians. Five years ago, however, the City of Buffalo hired a Missouri restoration firm to renew its Columbus statue.

In an era when Confederate flags and racist team names are regularly being challenged around the country; when the narratives on other historical monuments meet empirical challenges cast in bronze and stone; and decades after Eastern Europeans demonstrated how statues, in their case hundreds of statues of Lenin, can be torn down, our Columbus statues continue to stand tall as enduring symbols of racism beyond the reach of change.

Opinion Mon, 12 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400