Truthout Stories Tue, 06 Oct 2015 18:35:05 -0400 en-gb The Billionaire Hypocrisy of Helping the Poor

Open walletIf the richest in the US really want to help uplift the most impoverished regions around the US, they could certainly do it. (Image: Open wallet via Shutterstock)There's one thing that both progressives and conservatives can agree on, and they can quote both FDR and Ronald Reagan on it. And that is that, "The best welfare program is a job."

FDR extended the idea to say that when there are no jobs, the government should act as an employer of last resort. But Ronald Reagan supported the fantasy that rich people will simply create jobs out of sheer benevolence if we just cut their taxes and tear down pesky financial and trade regulations. And Ronald Reagan was right in some twisted way, by lifting trade barriers and financial regulations, the richest among us created hundreds of thousands of jobs.

There's just one problem: The jobs that got created are overseas: primarily low-wage, often-exploitative jobs in China, in Vietnam, in Malaysia and in Mexico. And all of those jobs came at the expense of someone else's job, right here at home.

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

Back in 1998, Nike Chairman Phil Knight explained all the wonderful benefits of "international trade" in a speech at New Mexico State University.

He said, "During the 1990s, all our experiences have caused us to really believe in the benefits of international trade. The uplifting of impoverished people, the better values for consumers in industrialized nations, and most of all, the increased understandings between peoples of different cultures."

Which sounds great, if you can look at so-called "free trade" through the rose-tinted glasses of an executive at a multinational corporation. But it's another story if you're looking at it through the eyes of the average worker in one of the US factories that shut down so that the parent multinational could reap the benefits of so-called free trade.

Drive across any part of the Rust Belt and you'll see all the shuttered factories that used to be the backbone of US industry. Or drive through the Deep South, through towns that used to house factories that made clothes, bikes, furniture and high-quality TV sets. In fact, you can drive to any corner of the United States and find dilapidated factories that hold the ghosts of millions of good-paying manufacturing jobs.

Those towns are at the focus of a recent opinion piece in The New York Times by Paul Theroux called "The Hypocrisy of 'Helping' the Poor," in which he wrote:

Big companies have always sought cheap labor... looking for the hungriest, the most desperate, the least organized, the most exploitable. It has been an American story. What had begun as domestic relocations went global, with such success that many C.E.O.s became self-conscious about their profits and their stupendous salary.

He's right. According to Forbes, some of the biggest philanthropists in the country are the Waltons, the Gates, the Dells and a number of hedge fund managers. All of them profited from sending manufacturing overseas, and many of them today say that they're only sending jobs overseas that Americans don't want to do.

In their minds, by sending the "unwanted" jobs abroad, multinationals can "lift people out of their impoverished lives in the developing world." And then, the logic goes, Americans will find better jobs and also benefit from cheaper goods manufactured overseas.

But the fact of the matter is Americans do want and need those manufacturing jobs. Americans would be happy to make shoes, TVs and computers, just like we did for most of the last century. The difference is that Americans want, demand and have fought for things like living wages, worker protections and environmental protections.

And that's the real issue here, the multinationals and the billionaire executives who run them, don't really care about worker well-being. They care first and foremost about their bottom line, how cheaply goods can be made and how much they can profit.

That's why even though Nike makes their shoes for somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 a pair in China, they sell them to the US market for hundreds of dollars.

And as they make billions in profits, people like Phil Knight and Apple CEO Tim Cook might hypocritically throw a few hundred thousand here and a couple million there towards charity here in the US. But just like welfare, Americans wouldn't need that charity if we just had good paying jobs at home.

If the richest in the US really want to help uplift the most impoverished regions around our own country, they could certainly do it. The business magnates who have made billions from our trade deals - like NAFTA, CAFTA and potentially now SHAFTA - can stop outsourcing jobs. They can start reopening factories and build new manufacturing facilities right here in the United States.

As Paul Theroux points out in his piece, "...[S]ome chief executives won't end up multibillionaires as a result, but neither will they have to provide charity to lift Americans out of poverty."

Charity is just the private sector patching holes in the social safety net. And the best social safety net - the best welfare program - is a good-paying job.

It's time to stop the so-called "free trade" debacle and bring our jobs home now!

Opinion Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Remembering Grace Lee Boggs (1915-2015): "We Have to Change Ourselves in Order to Change the World"

The legendary Detroit activist and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs died Monday at the age of 100. She was born in Rhode Island in 1915 to Chinese immigrant parents. She would go on to become deeply involved with the civil rights, black power, labor, environmental justice and feminist movements. Over the past decade Grace Lee Boggs was a frequent guest on Democracy Now! Her profile grew in 2013 with the release of the Peabody Award-winning documentary American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. The film captures Boggs' remarkable life story from collaborating with C.L.R. James to organizing with Malcolm X to starting Detroit Summer. We air interviews of Boggs on Democracy Now!, excepts from the documentary and speak to her close friend and caretaker Alice Jennings.


AMY GOODMAN: The legendary Detroit activist, philosopher Grace Lee Boggs died Monday at the age of 100. She was born in Rhode Island in 1915 to Chinese immigrant parents. She would go on to become deeply involved with the civil rights, black power, labor, environmental justice, feminist movements. Over the past decade, Grace Lee Boggs was a frequent guest on Democracy Now! Her profile grew in 2013 with the release of the Peabody Award-winning documentary, American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. The film captures Grace's remarkable life story, from collaborating with C.L.R. James to organizing with Malcolm X to starting Detroit Summer.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: I feel so sorry for people who are not living in Detroit. People are always striving for size, to be a giant, and this is a symbol of how giants fall. Keep recognizing that reality is changing and that your ideas have to change. Don't get stuck in old ideas.

ANGELA DAVIS: Grace has made more contributions to the black struggle than most black people have.

GRACE LEE: How did you become a philosopher?

GRACE LEE BOGGS: I'll just go back 70 years. I'm not sure why I am who I am. I think it does have something to do with the fact that I was born female and born Chinese.

RON SCOTT: Folks didn't really think about Grace as a Chinese American. She was Grace. You know, she was just one of us.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: I think the lightbulb goes on, very often, in conversations that people have, and we don't pay attention to it.

UNIDENTIFIED: Talk is cheap.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: I find it very, very difficult to take. I want to tell you honestly. Their talk was not cheap!

SHEA HOWELL: Oh, god, yes, she made all kinds of people cry, myself included.

AMY GOODMAN: Grace, how would you describe where we stand now?

GRACE LEE BOGGS: One of the difficulties when you're coming out of oppression is that you get a concept of the messiah. You have to get to that point that we are the leaders we've been looking for. We are the children of Martin and Malcolm. I don't know what the next American revolution is going to be like, but we might be able to imagine it, if your imagination were rich enough.

AMY GOODMAN: The film American Revolutionary features archival audio and video footage of Grace Lee Boggs dating back to the 1960s.

GRACE LEE: Back in 1963, Grace was still speaking as an outsider.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: I want to make very clear that I do not claim in any sense of the word to be a Negro. I have not lived all my life as a Negro, and I don't think anyone who hasn't really can speak for the Negro.

GRACE LEE: But once she becomes a black power activist, she starts using the word "we."

GRACE LEE BOGGS: In the black movement, when we were demanding first-class citizenship, we were saying we were being denied that. We were very ethical, but we wanted more than that.


GRACE LEE BOGGS: We wanted to become part of the people who took responsibility for the country.

STEPHEN WARD: So, by 1966, '67, she's well known particularly in Detroit circles, but also nationally, as a black power figure.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: And I became so active in the black power movement that FBI records of that time say that I was probably Afro-Chinese.

RON SCOTT: Nobody ever really thought - and I don't know how to say this, but folks didn't really think about Grace as a Chinese American. She was Grace. You know, she was just one of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Along with her husband, the autoworker and author Jimmy Boggs, who was just seen in that clip, Grace Lee Boggs started a number of political groups in Detroit and published widely, from books to political pamphlets. In 1974, they co-wrote Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century. In 2011, at the age of 96, the University of California Press published Grace's final book, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century. Revolution was a topic Grace Lee Boggs talks extensively about in American Revolutionary.

GRACE LEE: During Grace's lifetime, hundreds of revolutions have taken place around the world.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: People thought of revolution chiefly in terms of taking state power. But we've had revolutions, and we've seen how the states which they have created have turned out to be like replicas of the states which they opposed. You have to bring those two words together and recognize that we are responsible for the evolution of the human species. It's a question of two-sided transformation and not just the oppressed versus the oppressor. We have to change ourselves in order to change the world.

AMY GOODMAN: In the 1990s, Grace Lee Boggs turned her home into the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership. In 2013, she helped start the James and Grace Lee Boggs School, a charter elementary school. She continued talking and writing about revolution well into her nineties as her prominence grew in Detroit and beyond.

SCOTT KURASHIGE: When we think about Grace in the 20 century, she is very much an outsider. In the 21st century, she represents the uniting of people from different races and different backgrounds, in a way that is now defining America.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: Let me make a challenge to you, OK? With people of color becoming the new American majority in many parts of the country, how are we going to create a new vision for this country, a vision of a new kind of human being, which is what is demanded at this moment? So that's your challenge.

*And so the black power movement came out...

GRACE LEE: Even in her nineties, Grace still travels the country talking about revolution, but she always brings the conversation back to Detroit.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: I can't begin to tell you the number of young people who come to Detroit, and they come in order to be part of this new world that is being created.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. The film is screening free online on POV. Grace Lee Boggs died Monday at her home, surrounded by her caretakers and friends. She was 100 years old. When we come back, we'll be joined by Alice Jennings, close friend of Grace Lee Boggs and trustee of her estate. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: "Blue Nile" by Alice Coltrane, here on Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, as we remember the life and legacy of Grace Lee Boggs. Alice Jennings was a close friend and caretaker of Grace. She's a lawyer and board member of the James and Grace Lee Boggs School.

Alice, can you talk about her last days, Grace's last days, and what you feel is most important for people to understand about this extraordinary woman?

ALICE JENNINGS: Well, Grace's last days were gentle. They were full of friends and discussions. Grace still wanted to carry on the conversation of "What time is it on the clock of the world?" She still wanted to talk the discussion about revolution and what it means to be a human being, to stretch one's humanity. Grace's legacy for us who are left here really is to consider that for each of us, we have our own responsibility to transform ourselves. As a transformative leader, it wasn't that Grace wanted us to do as Grace did, but rather to explore ourselves to see what we could do to be better human beings, to stretch our own humanity, and to be involved in the social justice issues of our day.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2010, I interviewed Grace Lee Boggs at her home in Detroit, when we were there for the U.S. Social Forum.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: The World Social Forums began after the Battle of Seattle in 1999. And the slogan, "Another World is Possible," emerged out of a completely new mentality, when people recognized that essentially those in control are dysfunctional and that the old social democracy dependence on those in power to give you things, that period is over.

And I think it's really wonderful that the Social Forum decided to come to Detroit, because Detroit, which was once the symbol of miracles of industrialization and then became the symbol of the devastation of deindustrialization, is now the symbol of a new kind of society, of people who grow their own food, of people who try and help each other, to how we begin to think, not so much of getting jobs and advancing our own fortunes, but how we depend on each other. I mean, it's another world that we're creating here in Detroit. And we had to. I mean, we didn't do so because we are better people than anybody else, but when you look out and all you see is vacant lots, when all you see is devastation, when all you see - do you look at it as a curse, or do you look at it as a possibility, as having potential? And we here in Detroit had to begin doing that for our own humanity.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Grace Lee Boggs in 2010. I want to go back three more years to 2007, when Democracy Now!'s Juan González and I spoke with Grace Lee Boggs and the late poet and activist Amiri Baraka to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1967 rebellions in Detroit and Newark.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Amiri, what has changed in these 40 years, in terms of consciousness and in terms of what the country has learned from that period?

AMIRI BARAKA: Well, actually, in some ways, we've gone full cycle but up to another level. I mean, we went from the kind of blatant brutalization, of white supremacy and racism. We then organized ourselves and elected two black mayors. We haven't - none of my children, for instance, have ever grown under white people ruling in Newark. They don't even know what that is, you understand? And so, we can be proud of that. But at the same time, after we had our two domestic kind of mayors, who compromised relentlessly with corporate power, you understand, now we've come full circle and come to -

GRACE LEE BOGGS: Let me ask you a question, Amiri. Do you think that we have challenged and criticized and evaluated black power sufficiently?

AMIRI BARAKA: Have we? No, no, but I've been doing it for - I'm sorry.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: When are we going to do it?

AMIRI BARAKA: Well, I've been doing it for almost 37 years. I mean, having two black mayors there, Sharpe James and Ken Gibson, I was probably their most relentless critic all the time. But now we have somebody who doesn't compromise with corporate power, but who represents it. So that's the difference. We've moved -

GRACE LEE BOGGS: Well, so do you think it's a question of changing an individual? You know, for changing from Gibson to Booker?

AMIRI BARAKA: No, you have to get an individual who's willing to change the system. You have to get an individual who's willing to actually struggle with the system to change it. As long as you have people who -

GRACE LEE BOGGS: I mean, what do we mean by "struggling with the system"? How - when are we going to be -

AMIRI BARAKA: To make substantive changes, to make infrastructure changes.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: No, when will we begin to understand that we have to create new infrastructures, new forms, so that you can -

AMIRI BARAKA: Yeah, but you can only do that through people, you see?

GRACE LEE BOGGS: But you're not going to do it from people at the top. We're going to do it from people at the bottom.

AMIRI BARAKA: Well, you have to mobilize the whole community. But what I'm saying is that people at the top became accommodated to being in power and not changing.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: Yes, but maybe what we've done - maybe what we've - yes, but you see, we've put so much emphasis on taking over the power structure, and we became prisoners of it.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Grace Lee Boggs debating the great poet Amiri Baraka back in 2007 on Democracy Now! In fact, next week, on October 15th, we'll be speaking with Ras Baraka, Amiri Baraka's son, who is now the mayor of Newark. But I wanted to turn back to Grace Lee Boggs from the last time she appeared in our studio here on Democracy Now! in 2013.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Grace, talk about getting older.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: You know, [cough] Bette Davis was the person who said, "Aging ain't for sissies."

AMY GOODMAN: "Aging ain't for sissies."

GRACE LEE BOGGS: It ain't for sissies. I mean, when you have been very active all your life, and suddenly you're very restricted and don't have much mobility, it's tough. And it's tough when you've been married for 40 years to be living alone. But it won't go on forever. And I think I'm so grateful that Grace has made this film, because I think she has helped make my life mean something to people at a time when I think people need what my life means, if - I hope that doesn't sound arrogant. But the American people are very needy. They are very needy. They need to know that a revolution is to advance their humanity and to advance the humanity of the human race. They need to know that a revolution is to create solutions and not to get angry at the people. They need to know that a revolution is not just protests, it's not just anger, it's not just a search for power. It's a search for real problems for how to be a human being. And I think that's what's unique about the American revolution, and that's what's unique about this country, because even though there is a lot of poverty, there's a lot of inequality, there's a lot of physical hardships, I think the most profound hardship of the American people is that they want to change, they want to change themselves, they want to change this world, and they don't know how to do it. And revolution is the way to do it, but not the old kind of revolution. So, I think, in that sense, the reason that people are responding so positively is that to see the film does meet a need, a very profound need. I mean, this country is in such deep trouble spiritually, in every human sense. It's not just the finances. It's not just the joblessness. It's - I believe in a kind of American exceptionalism, that whereas in other countries you face the material hardships first and they become central, in the United States it's something that's a hunger that's much deeper, that we have to find our souls.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Grace Lee Boggs, the last time she appeared on Democracy Now!, here in a wheelchair - we moved the table - in 2013, her caretakers, her friends around her. That was two years ago. She was about, what, 98 at that point. And, Alice Jennings, as we wrap up, when I last went to visit Grace at home, what I was most struck by was the love, that she was in a cocoon of love. That you, Shea and her caretakers, Rick, overall, just enveloped her in, that also included her books, discussions, her passion right to the end, Alice.

ALICE JENNINGS: Yes, we tried to do what was right by Grace. She had always loved us. She had always given us books. She had always been there to talk when one needed to talk. And I think that we were able to - Grace beat two full terms of hospice care and got kicked out eventually. So, we thought that we did our job. And then she gently let go yesterday morning. So, yes, our dear friend.

AMY GOODMAN: Our condolences and congratulations for being a part of this great woman's life and being there with her to the end. Alice Jennings, close friend and caretaker of Grace Lee Boggs, lawyer and board member of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center. Grace Lee Boggs died yesterday the age of 100.

News Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Breast Cancer Patient Arrested for Protesting TPP: "This Is Price Gouging at the Cost of Lives"

The United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations reached an agreement Monday on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest regional trade accord in history. The agreement has been negotiated for eight years in secret and will encompass 40 percent of the global economy. Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders issued a statement calling TPP "disastrous" and vowed to fight it in Congress. One sticking point on the TPP had been the so-called death sentence clause, extending drug company monopolies on medicines. The United States and drug companies had pressed for longer monopolies on new biotech drugs, while multiple countries opposed the push, saying it could deny life-saving medicines to patients who cannot afford high prices. The compromise reportedly includes monopolies of between five and eight years. Last week in Atlanta, Zahara Heckscher, a cancer patient, disrupted TPP negotiations and was arrested as she demanded access to the secret text to see whether it includes a "death sentence clause." Heckscher joins us to talk about her arrest and why she says "it would actually condemn women to death."


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

AMY GOODMAN: The United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations reached an agreement Monday on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest regional trade accord in history. The agreement has been negotiated for eight years in secret and will encompass 40 percent of the global economy. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman praised the deal.

MICHAEL FROMAN: We expect this historic agreement to promote economic growth; support higher-paying jobs; enhance innovation, productivity and competitiveness; raise living standards; reduce poverty in our countries; and to promote transparency, good governance and strong labor and environmental protections.

AMY GOODMAN: The secret 30-chapter text has still not been made public, although sections of draft text have been leaked by WikiLeaks during the negotiations. Congress will have at least 90 days to review the TPP before President Obama can sign it. The Senate granted Obama approval to fast-track the measure and present the agreement to Congress for a yes-or-no vote with no amendments allowed.

During Senate hearings in June, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders fought fast track, warning that the American people need time to understand the TPP. The now Democratic presidential candidate issued a statement Monday saying, quote, "I'm disappointed but not surprised by the decision to move forward on the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that will hurt consumers and cost American jobs. Wall Street and other big corporations have won again. It is time for the rest of us to stop letting multi-national corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense," he said.

One sticking point on the TPP had been the so-called death sentence clause, extending drug company monopolies on medicines. The United States and drug companies had pressed for longer monopolies on new biotech drugs, while multiple countries opposed the push, saying it could deny life-saving medicines to patients who cannot afford high prices. The compromise reportedly includes monopolies of between five and eight years. Well, in Atlanta last week, Zahara Heckscher, a cancer patient, disrupted TPP negotiations. She was arrested as she demanded access to the secret text to see whether it includes a death sentence clause.

ZAHARA HECKSCHER: I am not going to leave until the USTR shows me the secret death sentence clause, so I can verify that the TPP is not going to prevent women like me with cancer from accessing the medicines we need to stay strong and stay alive.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Zahara Heckscher, a breast cancer patient, being arrested for protesting TPP negotiations last week at the Westin Hotel in Atlanta. Well, Zahara joins us today from Washington, D.C., as well as Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Zahara, talk about, on the eve of the approval of the TPP, or at least the agreement reached - it now must be approved, at least in the United States, by Congress - why you got arrested.

ZAHARA HECKSCHER: Thank you, Amy. I got arrested because I learned about this death sentence clause in the TPP that would make these life-saving cancer drugs unavailable to women around the world for a period of five years, eight years or 12 years. We call it the death sentence clause because it would actually condemn women to death, because they cannot afford or their healthcare systems can't afford the medicines. So, when I heard that, I knew, as a breast cancer patient, that I had to do something.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you say what your T-shirt says?

ZAHARA HECKSCHER: Yes. My T-shirt says, "I have cancer. I can't wait 8 years." And we have learned that the agreement seems to still include a five-to-eight-year period that allows de facto monopolies for life-saving drugs, and other provisions that make regular medicines, not just the biologic medicines, unaffordable. And so, unfortunately, the death sentence clause is still in the TPP.

AMY GOODMAN: Your mother also had breast cancer?

ZAHARA HECKSCHER: Yes, and that's another big motivation for me. I was only 11 when she died of breast cancer, and that was before these drugs were available. She only lived one year after she was diagnosed, and that's what breast cancer means without access to the modern medicines, the biologics and the other emerging medicines that, for example, have kept me alive for seven years so far and still going strong. So I know very personally what it means when people don't have access to the medicines. And I also know that breast cancer, it's not about just the individual patients, it's about the family. And for me, I'm fighting for my son to have a mom as much as I'm fighting for myself and for other women and their families.

AMY GOODMAN: What do pharmaceutical companies have to gain from this, Zahara?

ZAHARA HECKSCHER: The pharmaceutical companies have obscene profits to gain. And I'll tell you, just one of the medicines, the medicine called Herceptin, which is a monoclonal antibody, a biological drug, they make multiple billions of dollars on Herceptin every year, charging patients between $50,000 and $100,000 per year for each patient. And that's just one medicine. So $6 billion and up, depending on the year that you look at, is how much they're making from just one cancer medicine. So, it's not about profits. A little profit, fine. You know, they deserve some profits. But this is price gouging at the cost of lives.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask about comments made by the U.S. trade representative, Michael Froman, on the impact of the TPP on both research and access to life-saving drugs.

MICHAEL FROMAN: On biologics, as you know, this is one of the most challenging issues in the negotiation. We've worked cooperatively with all of our TPP parties - partners to secure a strong and balanced outcome that both incentivizes the development of these new life-saving drugs, while ensuring access to these pioneering medicines and their availability. And this is the first trade agreement in history to ensure a minimum period of protection for biologics and, in doing so, will help set a regional model and will create an environment in which, through comparable treatment, there will be an effective period of protection to encourage both innovation and access.

AMY GOODMAN: Zahara Heckscher, can you respond to this? And can you also talk about the relationship between generic drugs and biosimilar drugs? But first respond to Froman.

ZAHARA HECKSCHER: Sure. That statement I find very upsetting, because it is so much spin that it's spinning - spinning the truth into a lie. It's really inaccurate, an inaccurate description of the text, as far as we know. Of course, the final text is secret, but we have some good information about what's in there. And he's saying it's balanced. The balance looks like this: pharmaceutical profits obscene, profits weighing things down, patients' right to access an affordable medicine thrown out the window. So, I don't call that balanced by any stretch of the imagination.

And when he says "protection," well, he's not talking about protecting people's lives, he's talking about protecting the profits of the pharmaceutical industry, and in countries where, frankly, some of the countries, patients cannot afford these medicines at the current prices, nor can the health systems. Even in the wealthier countries that are part of the deal - Australia and New Zealand, for example - their health systems are having trouble even paying for the existing biologicals, not to mention the new ones coming down the pipeline that are going to be affected by the TPP.

News Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Republicans Don't Want EPA to Consider Costs of Climate Change When Approving Permits, and More

In today's On the News segment: Republicans don't want the EPA to consider the cost of climate change when they approve operating and building permits; a new report concludes that ensuring babies have enough gut bacteria could prevent them from developing asthma; environmental groups are declaring a victory for the Arctic; and more.

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


Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest of Science and Green News...

You need to know this. Republicans don't want the EPA to consider the cost of climate change when they approve operating and building permits. Back in January, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives adopted a budgetary practice known as "dynamic scoring." That creative accounting measure allows Republicans to use highly-questionable math projections when calculating the cost of legislation. In other words, they basically get to pretend that every tax cut creates jobs and that the final cost of the bill should be calculated accordingly. But they don't want the Environmental Projection Agency to consider how much things like super storms, sea-level rise and environmental clean up may cost us in the future. Last week, the House approved legislation known as the RAPID Act, which is intended to streamline the EPA permitting process for new projects. But that bill also contained language that specifically prohibits the EPA and other agencies from considering "greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change" in their environmental review. Apparently, Republicans think by ignoring the reality of global warming, they can avoid dealing with the very real effects. Democratic Congressman Alan Lowenthal spoke to the ThinkProgress blog about the legislation. He said, "The Social Cost of Carbon is an absolutely vital tool to ensure we are spending money wisely and preparing for the future; to stick our heads in the sand on this one is to ignore the facts before us." Thankfully the White House has promised to veto this legislation, but it probably won't be the last Republican attempt to undermine climate action. It really doesn't matter whether Republicans believe in man-made global warming or not, because the effects of rising temperatures can be seen and felt all around us. We can either factor in the cost of preparation, or be left holding the bag anyway when the next climate-related disaster strikes.

Numerous recent studies have documented the amazing benefits of gut bacteria, and the latest finding adds to the list of advantages. According to a new report published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, ensuring that babies have enough gut bacteria could prevent them from developing asthma. A team of Canadian researchers were working to determine why some children had an increased risk of developing the breathing disorder. By analyzing the gut microbes of 22 babies at high risk of asthma and about 300 who were at low risk, the scientists were able to document a specific difference. They discovered that babies who received four specific bacteria in the first 100 days after birth had immune systems strong enough to protect against asthma. After the first year of life, however, the researchers said that they found little difference in the gut bacteria among children. Although they caution that there is much more to uncover about the relationship between asthma and gut microbes, they hope that eventually this finding will help eliminate the breathing disorder. In the meantime, this study provides yet another reason we should all keep our gut bacteria healthy and strong.

Why do Republicans hate our national parks? That's the question we should all be asking after a Utah congressman's vow to destroy America's best park program. Shortly after Pope Francis told Congress that it was our responsibility to protect "our common home," Rep. Rob Bishop promised to block every attempt to save the Land and Water Conservation Fund unless the federal government promises not to try and protect any additional land. This is the guy who Republicans have put in charge of the House Natural Resources Committee. So, unless President Obama promises not to designate any more land as a national park, Congressman Bishop will block any attempt to fund the LWCF program, which expired last Wednesday in the midst of the potential government shutdown. That budget-neutral program used fees from oil and gas development to pay for local, state and national conservation programs, and it has historically enjoyed widespread, bipartisan support. This partisan nonsense has nothing to do with parks or conservation, and everything to do with saving the oil companies a few bucks in fees. Call Congress today and tell them to put our national parks ahead of oil company profits.

We've known for some time that a Mediterranean diet can help protect against heart disease. But, it turns out that diets rich in fruits, nuts, fish and olive oil may also lower the risk of developing breast cancer. According to a recent study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with four tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil per day reduces the risk of breast cancer. Researchers studied 4,000 women between the ages of 60 and 80, who were given instructions to follow either a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean-plus-olive-oil diet. The author of that study said, "Of course, no study is perfect." But he added, "We found a strong reduction in the risk of breast cancer." The scientists believe that there is something in the olive-oil that helps lower risk, but they say that the Mediterranean diet may also hold additional benefits. Whether the olive oil or the healthy diet is responsible for lower risk, it can never be a bad thing to start eating healthier all around.

And finally ... Environmental groups are declaring a victory for the Arctic. After years of protests and activism against drilling in the region, Royal Dutch Shell has announced that they will cease operations in the Arctic. That company originally claimed that they "found indications of oil and gas in the region," but now they say that the amount was "insufficient to warrant further exploration." As if their decision had nothing to do with the mountain of bad publicity and protests that the company dealt with regarding their plans to drill in that region. The oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity responded to Shell's announcement by saying, "Polar bears, Alaska's Arctic, and our climate just caught a huge break. Here's hoping Shell leaves the Arctic forever." He added, "If we're going to leave behind a livable planet, we need to leave that oil in the ground today, tomorrow, and always." The world said Shell-NO and for once, it appears that the oil company actually listened. Let's hope that this is a sign of things to come.

And that's the way it is for the week of October 5, 2015 - I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science and Green News.

News Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Inside Saudi Arabia: Butchery, Slavery and History of Revolt

Meet the new head of the United Nations panel on Human Rights: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Abby Martin takes us inside the brutal reality of this police-state monarchy, and tells the untold people's history of resistance to it. With a major, catastrophic war in Yemen and looming high-profile executions of activists, "The Empire Files" exposes true nature of the US-Saudi love affair.

News Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Parenting on the Brink: Wrestling With Fears Too Big to Name

Madeline is in the swing, her face the picture of delight. "Mo, mo," she cries and kicks her legs to show me that she wants me to push her higher and faster. I push, and push, and push with both hands. There is no thought in my head except for her joy. I'm completely present in this moment. It's perfection. Madeline embodies the eternal now and she carries me with her, pulling me out of my worries and fears and plans.

But not forever: after a few minutes, my mind and eyes wander. I take in the whole busy playground, crowded with toddlers plunging headlong into adventure and their attendant adults shouting exhortations to be careful, offering snacks, or lost in the tiny offices they carry in their hands. It's a gorgeous day. Sunny and blue and not too hot, a hint of fall in the breeze. And then my eye is caught by a much younger mom across the playground trying to convince her toddler that it's time to go.

When Madeline graduates from high school, I will be 57. Jeez, I think, that mom will still be younger than I am now when her kid walks across that stage. If I live to be 85, Madeline will be 46 and maybe by then I'll have some grandkids.  In fact, I'm suddenly convinced of it.  Between Madeline and her three-year-old brother Seamus and their eight-year-old sister Rosena, I will definitely live to see grandkids.  I reassure myself for the millionth time that having kids in my late thirties was totally fine.

And then another thought comes to mind, the sort of thought that haunts the parents of this moment: When I'm 85, it will be 2059, and what will that look like? When my grandkids are my age now, it could be almost a new century. And what will our planet look like then? And I feel that little chill that must be increasingly commonplace among other parents of 2015.

And then I'm gone. You wouldn't know it to look at me.  After all, I'm still pushing the swing, still cooing and chatting with my buoyant 18-month-old daughter, but my mind is racing, my heart is pounding. This playground will not be here. This tranquil, stable, forever place wasn't built to last 100 years, not on a planet like this one at this moment anyway.

I look around and I know. None of this - the municipal complex, the school across the street, the supermarket up the road - is built for 100 years, especially not this hundred years. It won't last. And I can't imagine a better future version of this either. What comes to mind instead are apocalyptic images, cheesy ones cribbed from The Walking Dead, that zombie series on AMC; The Day After, a 1980s made-for-TV dramatization of a nuclear attack on the United States; Cormac McCarthy's haunting novel The Road; Brad Pitt's grim but ultimately hopeful World War Z; and The Water Knife, a novel set in the western United States in an almost waterless near future.

They all rush into my head and bump up against the grainy black-and-white documentary footage of Hiroshima in 1945 that I saw way too young and will never forget. This place, this playground, empty, rusted, submerged in water, burned beyond recognition, covered in vines, overrun by trees. Empty. Gone.

Then, of course, Madeline brings me back to our glorious present. She wants to get out of the swing and hit the slides. She's fearless, emphatic, and purposeful. She deserves a future.  Her small body goes up those steps and down the slide over and over and over again. And the rush of that slide is new every time. She shouts and laughs at the bottom and races to do it again. Now. Again. Now. This is reality. But my fears are real, too. The future is terrifying. To have a child is to plant a flag in the future and that is no small responsibility.

We Have Nothing to Fear but...

We mothers hear a lot these days about how to protect our children. We hear dos and don'ts from mommy magazines, from our own mothers, our pediatricians, each other, from lactation experts and the baby formula industry, from the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, from Doctor Bob Sears, from sociologists and psychiatrists and child development specialists. We are afraid for our kids who need to be protected from a world of dangers, including strangers, bumblebees, and electrical outlets.

Such threats are discussed, dissected, and deconstructed constantly in the media and ever-newer ones are raised, fears you never even thought about until the nightly news or some other media outlet brought them up. But hanging over all these humdrum, everyday worries is a far bigger fear that we never talk about and that you won't read about in that mommy magazine or see in any advice column.  And yet, it's right there, staring us in the face every single day, constant, existential, too big to name.

We can't say it, but we are increasingly afraid of the future, of tomorrow, afraid for our children in ways that, in themselves, are frightening to bring up. It's as diffuse as "anything can happen" and as specific as we are running out of ______ [fill in the blank: clean water, fossil fuels, space for people, arable land, cheap food stuffs, you name it]. Even if the supply of whatever you chose to think about isn't yet dwindling in our world, you know that it will one of these days. Whatever it is, that necessity of everyday life will be gone (or too expensive for ordinary people) by ______ [2020, 2057, 2106].

It's paralyzing to look at Madeline and think such thoughts, to imagine an ever-hotter planet, ever-less comfortable as a home not just for that vague construct "humanity," but for my three very specific children, not to speak of those grandchildren of my dreams and fantasies.

It's something that's so natural to push away. Who wouldn't prefer not to think about it?  And at least here, in our world, on some level we can still do that.

For those of us who are white and western and relatively financially stable, it's still possible to believe we're insulated from disaster - or almost possible anyway. We can hold on to the comfort that our children are unlikely to be gunned down or beaten to death by police, for example. We can watch the news and feel sadness for the mass exodus out of Syria and all those who are dying along the way, but those feelings are tinged with relief in knowing that we will not be refugees ourselves.

But for how long? What if?

They say: enjoy your kids while they're young; pretty soon they'll be teenagers. Haha, right? Actually, I'm excited about each stage of my kids' lives, but Madeline won't be a teenager until 2027. According to climate scientists and environmentalists, that may already be "past the point of no return." If warming continues without a major shift, there will be no refreezing those melting ice shelves, no holding back the rising seas, no scrubbing smog-clogged air, no button we can press to bring water back to parched landscapes.

These are things I know. This is a future I, unfortunately, can imagine. These are the reasons I try to do all the right things: walk, eat mostly vegetarian, grow some of our own food, conserve, reuse, reduce, recycle. We had solar panels installed on our roof. We only have one car. We're trying, but I know just as well that such lifestyle choices can't turn this around.

It will take everyone doing such things - and far more than that. It will require governments to come to their senses and oil companies to restrain the urge to get every last drop of fossil fuel out of the ground.  It will take what Naomi Klein calls a "Marshall Plan for the Earth." In her groundbreaking and hopeful book, This Changes Everything, she writes,

"I am convinced that climate change represents a historic opportunity on an even greater scale [than the New Deal]. As part of the project of getting our emissions down to the levels many scientists recommend, we once again have the chance to advance policies that dramatically improve lives, close the gap between rich and poor, create huge numbers of good jobs, and reinvigorate democracy from the ground up."

Which brings me to fear and how it paralyzes. I don't want to be paralyzed in the face of catastrophic climate change or any other looming calamity. I want to be motivated and spurred to action not by an apocalyptic vision of our local playground engulfed in flames or submerged under several feet of water, but by the potential for the brighter future than is surely within our grasp - within my grasp today and Madeline's in some future that she truly deserves. 

Preparing for the Unthinkable 

Growing up, I heard this a lot: "Don't be so First World, Frida."

That's what Phil Berrigan - former priest, brazenly nonviolent activist, tireless organizer for peace and justice - would tell me, his eldest daughter. If I was flippant or tweenish, that's what he would always say. "Don't be so First World." It was his rejoinder when I asked for spending money or permission to go to the movies. What he meant was: regulate your wants, consider others, be comfortable being alone, put yourself second, listen, be in solidarity, choose the harder path.

My father's admonishment sounds a discordant note amid today's morass of parenting messages with their emphasis on success and ease and happiness. But it prepared me for much of what I encountered along the road to adulthood and it resonates deeply as I parent three children whose futures I cannot imagine. Not really. Will they have clean water, a home, a democracy, a playground for their children? Will they be able to buy food - or even grow it? Will they be able to afford transportation? I don't know. 

What I can do is prepare them to distinguish needs from wants, to share generously and build community, to stand up for what they believe and not stand by while others are abused. When, as with Madeline at that playground, the unspoken overwhelms me, I wonder whether I shouldn't sooner or later start teaching them how the world works and basic skills that will serve them well in an uncertain future: what electricity is and how to start a fire, how to navigate by the stars, how to feed themselves by hunting and gathering, how to build a shelter or find and purify water, or construct a bicycle out of parts they come across on the road to perdition.

The only problem is that, like most of my peers and friends, I actually don't know how to do any of that (except maybe for the bicycle building), so I better get started. I should also be planting nut trees in our backyard and working for global nuclear disarmament. I can help New London (a water's edge community) be prepared and more resilient in the face of rising sea levels and be active in our local Green Party.

I know that there's no simple solution, no easy or individual fix to what's coming down the road. I know as well that there is no future except the one we are making right now, this second, again and again and again. And in our world, I call that hope, not despair. Perhaps you could just as easily call it folly.  Call it what you will.  I don't have a label for my parenting style. I'm not a helicopter mom or a tiger mom. But like a lot of other people right now, whether they know it or not, realize it or not, I am parenting on the brink of catastrophe. I'm terrified for my children, but I am not paralyzed and I know I am not alone, which makes me, despite everything, hopeful, not for myself, but for Madeline.

Opinion Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Campus Carry ]]> Art Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400 Netflix's Offer of Paid Family Leave Reflects Larger Divide in Tech

In August, Netflix announced it would begin offering unlimited paid maternity and paternity leave to its employees during the first year of their new child's life. Within days of the announcement, the California-based tech company had become trumpeted as the new face of progressive employee benefits among private sector companies. The following day Microsoft announced its own maternity/paternity leave upgrade. (The company says the timing was pure coincidence and not at all related to Netflix's.)

But the web streaming giant failed to mention that this new and improved benefit only applies to salaried employees in its web-division and will not be enjoyed by the 450 waged employees who work in their mail order or customer service division, 261 of whom are part time or seasonal.

Netflix's new leave policy is the latest development in the private sector that illustrates the widening disparities in benefits, wages and standards of living between "elite" tech workers and low-wage service workers in this rapidly growing industry. This is especially evident on the West Coast, where the majority of tech companies and startups are located. Policies like this say to wage workers that though their labor is essential for generating profits, only their "elite" salaried colleagues - who aren't so easily replaced are deserving of decent benefits, conditions and pay.

Stanford University economics professor Paul Oyer agrees. He recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that "Netflix isn't doing this because they're nice guys. Netflix is giving this parental leave because they're in an incredibly competitive market for engineers and high-tech workers who have plenty of options when it comes to choosing a place to work. Hourly workers just aren't in that same kind of market. They can be replaced."

Netflix soon faced backlash from progressive and labor groups as well as their own employees - a number of whom allege they were not informed about the new policy and learned about it via social media. Days later, activist groups and non-profits like Working Families Party, UltraViolet, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Democracy for America, Make It Work and each launched petitions demanding that Netflix change its policy to include wage employees in its mail and customer service divisions.

Together the petitions garnered over 100,000 signatures over the course of about three weeks, and on September 1, disappointed Netflix customers joined members of this broad coalition to deliver the collected signatures to Netflix at their headquarters in Los Gatos, California. Netflix representatives refused to accept the collected signatures.

Netflix, however, is not unique in dividing its workforce along such lines. Tech companies like Amazon boast about offering luxurious amenities to their corporate office workers, yet a number of recent exposés and low-wage tech company worker organizing drives have highlighted the abuse and exploitation these workers are subject to.

Expanding and extending parental leave is also about figuring out how to recruit and retain more women workers. In that vain, Apple and Facebook have both recently introduced a new healthcare benefit which they would like to think helps solve that problem: pay for their female employees to cryogenically freeze their eggs in order to delay pregnancy. Last year, Apple said in a statement, "We want to empower women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families."

This is certainly good news for women who are unsure whether they want to have children, though it's unclear how encouraging employees who want to have families to delay pregnancy is empowering. Postponing personal goals or plans in order to keep your opportunities for employment or career advancement from running dry the minute you decide to have a family benefits bosses more than workers. What is clear, however, is that these policies are reactions to what these companies see as a problem when it comes to recruiting and retaining female tech workers: their desire to have families.

Netflix's new extended maternity and paternity leave benefit will greatly improve the lives of what it considers its elite employees while reminding its waged customer service and warehouse workers that they're not worth living wages or decent benefits that would significantly improve their quality of life.

Wage workers like the 450 who will be denied unlimited maternity and paternity leave under Netflix's new employee benefits package are essential to the profit-generating process of these companies, but they're seen as replaceable components of their well-oiled machine rather than as human beings with familial aspirations and obligations. Until these decisions over benefits and wages are determined and enforced by federal law, workers will be at the mercy of their employers. That's a losing option for workers.

Opinion Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Environmental Activists Continue to Face Interrogations at US-Canada Border

Three members of the radical environmental organization Deep Green Resistance and two other individuals were detained for more than seven hours at the Peace Arch border crossing between Washington State and British Columbia on their way to Vancouver to attend a talk by author and activist Chris Hedges on Friday, September 25. They were questioned about the organizations they were involved in, their political affiliations, and their contacts in Canada before being turned away by Canadian border agents. Upon re-entering the United States they were then subjected to another round of questioning by US border agents. The car they were traveling in as well as their personal computers were searched.

The interrogation comes on the heels of an FBI inquiry into Deep Green Resistance last fall in which more than a dozen members of the group were contacted and questioned by FBI agents. Several months later the group's lawyer, Larry Hildes, was stopped at the same border crossing and asked specifically about one of his clients, Deanna Meyer, also a Deep Green Resistance member. During the 2014 visits, FBI and Department of Homeland Security agents showed up at members' places of work, their homes, and contacted family members to find out more about the group. Meyer, who lives in Colorado, was asked by a DHS agent if she'd be interested in "forming a liaison." The agent told her he wanted to, "head off any injuries or killing of people that could happen by people you know." Two of the members detained at the border on Friday were also contacted by the FBI last fall.

Since Hildes was last held up at the Peace Arch border crossing in June he filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security's Traveler Redress Inquiry Program. In August he received a letter from the DHS saying the agency "can neither confirm nor deny any information about you which may be within federal watchlists or reveal any law enforcement sensitive information."

It's not only Deep Green Resistance members who have had trouble getting across the border. Environmental activists who were part of a campaign in Texas opposing  the Keystone XL pipeline were the targets of an FBI investigation in 2012 and 2013 and have also been denied entry into Canada. At least one of those activists, Bradley Stroot, has been placed on a selective screening watchlist for domestic flights.

Nearly all of the activists involved are US citizens who have not had issues traveling to Canada in the past, leading them to believe that the recent FBI investigation and interest in their activities has landed them on some kind of federal watchlist. According to Peter Edelman, an immigration attorney in Vancouver, there are three broad categories under which Canadian border agents may deny entry to a foreign national: If they suspect you are entering Canada to work or study or you clearly don't have the financial resources needed for the duration of the visit; if you pose a security threat to Canada or are a member of a terrorist or criminal organization; or if you've committed certain crimes. Edelman says that US citizens tend to get targeted more easily at the Canadian border because of the various information- sharing programs between the two countries. As soon as they scan your passport, border agents have access to a whole host of state and federal databases. Still, Edelman says, "Who gets targeted and who doesn't is definitely an exercise in profiling."

On Friday, September 25 Deep Green Resistance members Max Wilbert, Dillon Thomson, Rachel Ivey and two other individuals not affiliated with the group drove from Eugene, Oregon to attend the talk by Hedges, which was a collaboration with the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter and the Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution. They got to the border around 1 p.m., told the border agents where they were going, and that they'd be returning to Oregon the next day. They were then asked to exit their vehicle and enter the border control facility, where they assumed they would be held briefly before continuing on their way.

Instead, they ended up spending four hours on the Canadian side, each questioned separately. At one point, an agent came into the building carrying Wilbert's computer and notebooks. He asked the agent what they were doing with the computer and was told they were searching for "child pornography and evidence that you're intending to work in Canada." The agent also said they were "not going to add or remove anything."

According to Edelman the searching of computers and cell phones at the border has become standard procedure despite the fact that there are questions about whether a border search allows for such invasive measures. Border agents take the view that they are permitted to do so, but the legal picture remains murky. "The searching of computers is an issue of contention," Edelman says.

After four hours of questioning, all but one of the travelers were told that they would not be allowed to enter Canada. Wilbert, who grew up in Seattle and has traveled to Canada many times without incident, including as recently as January 2015, was told that they were suspicious he was entering the country to work illegally. A professional photographer, he had volunteered to take pictures of the event, which he had openly told the agents. "It was pretty obvious they were grasping for straws," Wilbert says. "Under that level of suspicion you wouldn't let anybody into Canada."

The other three individuals were told they had been denied entry for previous political protest-related arrests. Rachel Ivey, a Deep Green Resistance member arrested in 2012 during a protest near the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, had traveled to Canada in December 2014 without any problems. The one individual allowed entry had no prior arrest record or explicit affiliation with any political groups. (Interestingly, several Deep Green Resistance members traveling separately, including one of the group's founders, Lierre Keith, were allowed to pass through the border and attend the event.)

After being denied entry to Canada, the group turned around and attempted to reenter the United States, at which point they were again pulled aside and told by US border agents to exit their car. The group was then subjected to a similar round of questioning that lasted three and a half hours. This time, US agents took three computers from the vehicle into the border control facility and kept them for the duration of the interrogation.

According to Wilbert, the questions on the American side were more obviously political. Agents wanted to know the names of the groups they were involved in, what kinds of activities they engage in, what they believe in, and who they were going to see.

"It seemed very clear on the US side that they had already come to conclusions about who we are and what we were doing," Ivey says.

Around 8:30 p.m. they were told they could leave and that it had been nothing more than a routine inspection.

Wilbert doesn't see it that way. Two days later he got a new computer and says he plans to get rid of the one seized by border agents. Despite assurances from the border officials that nothing was "added or removed" he says, "We feel like everything we do on those computers will never be private."

"It was pretty clear to us that it was an information gathering excursion," says Wilbert. "They had an opportunity to harass and intimidate and gather information from activists who they find threatening."

News Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
US Military Changes Its Account of Afghanistan Hospital Bombing

Kabul, Afghanistan - The U.S. military on Monday changed its account of a devastating bombing in northern Afghanistan, saying that Afghan forces, not U.S. advisers, initiated a request for an American airstrike that killed 22 people at a Doctors Without Borders hospital.

It was the first time the U.S. military acknowledged that its airstrike hit the hospital, but the disclosure only deepened the questions surrounding what has become one of the most controversial civilian casualty incidents in nearly 14 years of American combat in Afghanistan.

It remained unclear what role, if any, was played by U.S. special forces on the ground, whether Taliban fighters were in or near the hospital, what kind of training the Afghan forces had undergone to learn the rules of engagement, and why the United States would carry out an attack on a medical facility, which ordinarily would be clearly marked.

Doctors Without Borders says it gave NATO forces the GPS coordinates for the hospital both before and during the attack.

Gen. John F. Campbell, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, called a news conference at the Pentagon to revise earlier statements that the airstrike was carried out on behalf of American military personnel who were under fire from Taliban insurgents early Saturday in the city of Kunduz.

"We have now learned that on Oct. 3, Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. forces," Campbell said. "An airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat, and several civilians were accidentally struck."

Pressed repeatedly about the role U.S. forces played, Campbell said Afghan forces "asked for air support from a special forces team that we have on the ground," but that the U.S. team had not been under fire.

American warplanes and ground forces, including an undisclosed number of special operations troops, have been assisting in the Afghan operation to retake Kunduz after it fell to the Taliban last week. Residents said Monday that government forces had nearly regained total control of the city of 300,000 and that many people were venturing outside for the first time since fighting began.

The U.S. military has offered few details of the hostilities that prompted the Saturday airstrike. Officials have said American troops were advising the Afghans who requested the airstrike, but it remained unclear how close they were to the firefight.

Doctors Without Borders - the Nobel Peace Prize-winning medical charity that operates hospitals in poor and strife-torn countries worldwide - accused the U.S. of changing its story and "attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government." The group closed the Kunduz hospital Sunday and has called for an independent investigation into the incident.

"The reality is the U.S. dropped those bombs," said Christopher Stokes, general director of the group that is also known by its French name, Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF.

"The U.S. hit a huge hospital full of wounded patients and MSF staff. The U.S. military remains responsible for the targets it hits, even though it is part of a coalition. There can be no justification for this horrible attack."

The bombing has refocused attention on the rules of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, which in January was downsized to 9,800 troops focused on training and advising Afghan forces. The U.S. military has sharply curtailed its use of airstrikes, although officials say they can still be authorized in some cases to protect Afghan forces, which lack capable air power.

An Afghan request for an airstrike must be approved by the U.S. and is coordinated by an officer known as a joint terminal attack controller, who is trained in calling in close air support from attack aircraft.

Afghan military officials say American air power has been decisive in several battles over the last year against a resurgent Taliban, but the U.S. has tried to limit its role. Through August, the U.S. had launched 523 airstrikes in Afghanistan in 2015, one-third as many as in the same period last year.

"Just because the Afghan security forces ask, doesn't mean that they receive" an airstrike, said a U.S. military official in Afghanistan, who wasn't authorized to speak on the matter.

It remained unclear whether the coordinates in the Kunduz strike - which was carried out by an AC-130, a heavily armed aircraft that fires rounds powerful enough to rip apart tanks - were mistaken or if the precise location of the hospital was unknown. MSF says it notified officials in Washington and Kabul repeatedly of the GPS coordinates of the facility, as is standard practice in conflict zones.

Initial statements from U.S. military officials in Afghanistan said the hospital suffered "collateral damage," indicating it wasn't the target of the strikes. But MSF says it contacted military officials after the bombing began around 2:08 a.m., and airstrikes continued for more than one hour, precisely striking the hospital's main building roughly every 15 minutes, "while surrounding buildings were left mostly untouched."

U.S. and Afghan officials say that Taliban militants were using the area near the hospital to launch attacks against their forces - an assertion that could not be independently verified. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said over the weekend that the hospital area had seen "intense fighting."

Militant groups such as Hamas, in the Gaza strip, have been accused of using hospitals and other civilian structures as human shields. Afghan insurgents in recent years have increasingly attacked civilian targets, including schools and hotels in Kabul and other cities, resulting in thousands of casualties.

"The United States military takes extraordinary steps to avoid harm to civilians," Campbell said. "However, the Taliban have purposefully chosen a fight from within a heavily urbanized area, purposely placing civilians in harm's way."

The MSF hospital in Kunduz had previously come under scrutiny by Afghan forces because of the organization's policy of treating all patients regardless of political affiliation. In July, Afghan commandos raided the facility, reportedly on suspicion that an al-Qaida suspect was being treated there, causing the group to briefly close the hospital to new patients.

Immediately after the bombing Saturday, a Taliban spokesman issued a vague statement saying none of its fighters was being treated at the MSF hospital "because the prevailing military situation of Kunduz would not allow us to admit our patients."

The statement did not answer allegations that Taliban fighters were launching attacks from near the facility. But MSF has distributed accounts from hospital staff members that cast doubt on claims that there were hostilities in the area immediately prior to the bombing - including one from a nurse who said he was sleeping when the airstrike began.

"Over the past week, we'd heard bombings and explosions before, but always farther away," said the nurse, Lajos Zoltan Jecs.

MSF said the "constant discrepancies in the U.S. and Afghan accounts" underlined the need for an independent probe. Campbell said three investigations - one by the Pentagon, another involving the U.S. and Afghan governments and a third by NATO - are examining the incident.

U.S. defense officials say the investigations are centered on whether the U.S. military knew the hospital was nearby when the airstrike was launched and whether the facility was being used by the Taliban to launch attacks.

Carter, in Madrid as part of a five-day trip through Europe, said that as of Sunday neither U.S. nor Afghan forces had been able to reach the hospital because it was in an embattled area.

For the Pentagon, the incident has been a bleak rerun of previous incidents in Afghanistan when U.S. warplanes hit wedding parties and other civilian gatherings, prompting outrage from former President Hamid Karzai. According to the United Nations, more than 1,700 Afghan civilians have been killed by airstrikes since 2007, the vast majority of which were likely from U.S. forces, which dominate the air war in Afghanistan.

The Kunduz operation has served as a reminder that U.S. combat in Afghanistan is not over, despite the Obama administration's efforts to bring the war to an end.

"Afghanistan remains an area of active hostilities, and our personnel continue to operate in harm's way," Campbell said. "Therefore, they retain the inherent right of self-defense."

In Kunduz, life slowly began to return to normal Monday, with shops reopening in the morning and vehicle, bicycle and foot traffic returning to the city.

"Today the situation in Kunduz is good," Qasim Jangal Bagh, the provincial police chief, told reporters. "People are walking around and returning to their routines."

Special correspondent Latifi reported from Kabul, and Times staff writers Bengali from Mumbai, India, and Hennigan from Madrid.

News Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400