Truthout Stories Tue, 01 Dec 2015 15:16:14 -0500 en-gb On the News With Thom Hartmann: California Schoolchildren Are Being Taught With Misleading Textbooks, and More

In today's On the News segment: Leaders from around the world are meeting in Paris to work out the future of global climate action; there may eventually be a new ringed planet in our solar system; California school children are being taught with misleading textbooks; and more.

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


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

You need to know this. This week, leaders from around the world are meeting in Paris to work out the future of global climate action. But, while our president is overseas trying to come up with climate solutions, Republicans back in the states are undermining him at every turn. And, their typical obstruction could pose a threat to the entire Paris summit. Rather than working on ways to solve our climate crisis, our right-wing lawmakers have vowed to block $3 billion that President Obama has pledged to help developing nations. During the 2009 climate talks, trust broke down between developing and developed nations, and threatened to derail the entire summit. Thankfully, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton managed to save the talks by pledging to help raise $100 billion in annual aid for developing nations. A small part of that $100 billion so-called "Green Climate Fund" was supposed to come from the United States, but Republicans are blocking our small contribution. In a recent letter to President Obama, 37 Republican Senators said, "We pledge that Congress will not allow US Taxpayer dollars to go to the Green Climate Fund until the forthcoming international climate agreement is submitted to the Senate for its constitutional advice and consent." In other words, they want to block the funding because they know that doing do could undermine the Paris talks, insult the president and keep their oil-industry donors raking in massive profits. Thankfully, many other developed nations have contributed their funds to the Green Climate Fund, which will help up-and-coming nations skip over the fossil fuel stage of their development. And, Democrats in Congress say that they won't make it easy for Republicans to back out of international commitments. If we want to lead the world in the next century, we have to help the world make the switch away from last century's dirty energy. That means we need to help fund the clean development of the future.

There may eventually be a new ringed planet in our solar system. According to new research from astronomers, the mini moon that circulates Mars will break apart and give that planet a ring of its own. But, I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for that ring to appear. Scientists say that it will take somewhere from 20 to 70 million years for that occur. Astronomers who study that moon, called Phobos, noticed that moon is moving 1.8 centimeters closer to Mars every year. Although it may be a long, long way off, eventually the moon will break apart and send 10 trillion tons of material into orbit around that planet. Scientists are not sure whether Phobos will actually hit the surface of Mars, or whether it will break apart as it orbits, but it's still pretty amazing that they can predict the moon's inevitable demise. Despite our view of our planet and solar system as stable, the fact is that we're just sitting on a rock in a dynamic environment that's constantly changing.

North Vancouver, British Columbia wants drivers to be aware of how they impact our climate. That's why the Canadian city will be the first to implement climate change warning stickers at each and every gas pump. Earlier this month, North Vancouver passed a new law which mandates that all gas pumps help drivers understand how small changes can have a big impact. For example, one of the proposed warning labels reads, "Idling your vehicle for more than 10 seconds wastes more gas than starting your engine." While officials don't believe that the new labels will make people stop driving, they hope that the warnings will get people to think about their buying habits. Rob Shirkley of the group Out Horizon, which spearheaded the labels, said, "We have a habitual automatic downstream behavior - we don't think about pumping gas. We all say in Canada, 'shame on Alberta, shame on tar sands,' but by pointing [our] finger up-stream, we distance ourselves from the problem." He added, "We're providing most of the demand for that product." Hopefully, the new labels will make more people aware of how their small decisions have a impact our warming planet.

California school children are being taught with misleading textbooks. According to a recent article in the Guardian newspaper, the science books used by sixth-graders in that state express doubt about whether climate change is real. That article summarized a Stanford University study, which analyzed four different science textbooks and found that they "framed climate change as uncertain in the scientific community - both about whether it is occurring as well as about its human-causation." In fact, one of the books actually claims that climate change "could have some positive effects." Despite the fact that there is virtually no debate on whether climate change is occurring, all of these books use conditional words like "may," "might" or "could" when discussing the climate. One of the authors of the Stanford study, KC Busch, said, "Saying that 'if temperatures go up, climate change could occur' is completely misleading." She added, "We don't want children to be brainwashed; we just need to be clear about what scientists know and what they are uncertain of." Students' educations should not depend on political ideology, and it's time to get the climate science denial out of our education system.

And finally... If you - like many Americans - love all things flavored with pumpkin spice, you may owe a big thanks to early North American farmers. According to a recent study published in the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," if early Americans hadn't cultivated pumpkins and squash, they most likely would have gone extinct on our continent. Researchers conducted a genetic analysis of 91 ancient and modern gourds and discovered that humans started to cultivate the plant about 10,000 years ago. But, when the population of large mammals declined in North America, there were few remaining natural ways for pumpkin seeds to be spread so they could flourish. If humans didn't domesticate the plant, they wouldn't have survived, and we wouldn't have the tasty pumpkin treats that we all know and love today. So, the next time you take a bite of pumpkin pie, perhaps you should take a minute to give thanks to our nation's first farmers.

And that's the way it is for the week of November 30, 2015 - I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science & Green News.

News Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0500
A State of Emergency in France: Draconian Measures Threaten Civil Liberties

Many people in France are concerned that the government is using the Paris attacks to justify excessive security measures. While authorities claim state of emergency laws are needed to maintain national security, they are also being used to keep climate activists under house arrest.

2015.12.1.Jagger.1The Statue of the Republic covered in flowers and surrounded by shoes. (Photo: Bianca Jagger)I was in la Place de La Republique in Paris on the afternoon of November 29 with several thousand people. The Statue of the Republic is covered with flowers and candles to commemorate the victims of the November 13 terrorist attacks. The monument was also surrounded by pairs of shoes, including a pair from the pope, to symbolize the climate march that was supposed to take place.

This mixture was reflected in the crowds: Some were there to mourn; others had gathered to raise awareness of climate change and call for world leaders to take action, for the defense of the planet, the climate and democracy. There were grassroots climate activists, students, families and children. There were mimes, and a 20-foot-tall, papier-mâché puppet of Marianne - the female allegory of liberty, one breast bared. Groups of activists sat cross-legged on the chilly ground, eating vegetarian lunches. Some protesters were masked or wore balaclavas, perhaps because marches in Paris are banned under the new state of emergency laws.

There were climate marches taking place all over the world this past weekend. But the Paris People's Climate March, scheduled to take place on November 29, was canceled, as are all public demonstrations during the next three months. Christmas markets and other social and religious events are allowed to go ahead, however; it seems that groups of people only grow dangerous "when they have a political point to make."

At around 1:30 pm, activists began to walk slowly around the square, holding banners and singing: "Si on ne marche pas, ca ne vas pas marcher" - "If we don't march, it won't work," and "L'etat d'urgence est le climat" - "The state of emergency is the climate." Ranks of police were drawn up in rows, closing off the square - waiting, watching and carrying batons and riot shields.

I left la Place de la Republique at around 2 pm. Shortly after, the crowd was tear-gassed by police. Some news outlets, including TIME, the Telegraph and the Guardian, report that the protesters provoked the police by charging them, or throwing shoes and bottles. The Guardian claims that the peaceful climate gathering was "hijacked" by masked anti-capitalists and anarchists.

2015.12.1.Jagger.2Bianca Jagger in front of police in la Place de La Republique. (Photo: Bianca Jagger)


While I was there, I saw no provocation from protesters, masked or not. Later that afternoon, I spoke with nongovernmental organizations at COP21, who had been there and seen the scuffle. They were unequivocal that the provocation hadn't come from the climate protesters. One said that when the police threw the first tear-gas canister, it missed protesters; the wind blew the gas onto police on the other side of the square. Then, he went on, the gassed police retaliated with their own round of tear-gas canisters.

Police arrested 208 people during the protest of which 174 were kept in custody. They took many away in a bus. Others were detained in a makeshift pen created by ranks of riot officers and police vans.

In the early evening, French President François Hollande, President Barack Obama and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo went to lay flowers at the Bataclan, the concert hall where on November 13, terrorists opened fire on the audience. The cavalcade went down streets surrounding the Bataclan and the Place de la Republique, which by then had been cleared of protesters and closed off by police.

The French government's ban on demonstrations has forced civil society to get creative: On the morning of November 29, before going to the Place de la Republique, I took part in a "human chain": 10,000 people linked arms forming a chain that stretched over the streets of Paris, from Place de la Nation to la Republic. From metro station to metro station, each section of the chain represented different areas of concern. Justice and the rule of law, the environment ... I stood in the section that asked, "Who are the culprits?" As it was not a march, the chain was not in violation of the emergency laws, and the protesters were left largely in peace. Those in the Place de la Republique were not so lucky.

Following the horrific November 13 Paris terrorist attacks, which killed 130 people, the French government declared a state of emergency for 12 days, which was then extended for three months, dating from November 26. What is deeply disturbing is that France has written to the secretary general of the Council of Europe, making an official request to suspend their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights because the country's "state of emergency" is "likely to necessitate exemption from some of the rights guaranteed ... due to public danger that threatens the life of a nation." The French government has derogated the ECHR. Article 15 of the European Convention permits derogations in times of war or other public emergencies that threaten the life of the nation, to the extent required by the exigencies of the situation. In other words, restrictions to liberty must be proportionate to the threat.

Article 15 derogations have been challenged in the European Court of Human Rights, where the court has clarified that a public emergency must be "an exceptional situation of crisis or emergency which afflicts the whole population and constitutes a threat to the organized life of the community of which the community is composed."

The state of emergency laws allow the French government to impose house arrest without authorization from a judge, conduct searches without a judicial warrant and seize any computer files it finds, and block websites deemed to glorify terrorism without prior judicial authorization. According to Radio France Internationale, since the state of emergency was initiated there have been 1,616 searches of premises, 211 arrests, 161 people charged and 293 weapons seized. Human Rights Watch was among the first organizations to sound the alarm, stating that "these powers interfere with the rights to liberty, security, freedom of movement, privacy, and freedoms of association and expression."

According to Izza Leghtas, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, "The French government should keep people safe and bring those responsible for the horrific attacks to justice, but it also has a duty to protect people's freedom and rights, and not to discriminate against any segment of the population."

2015.12.1.Jagger.3Bianca Jagger in front of the police cordon. (Photo: Bianca Jagger)


On November 27, in a preemptive move, the French government used the state of emergency laws to confine 24 climate activists under a compulsory order of residence. Not all their locations are known, but according to a lawyer representing one of the climate protesters, six people have been placed under house arrest in Rennes, two in the Paris region and two in Rouen. The protesters are confined to their homes between 8 pm and 6 am. At other times they may leave the house but they are to be accompanied at all times by no fewer than three plainclothes police. Three times a day, they must sign in at the police commissariat.

Many people in France are concerned that the government is using the uncertainty and fear created by the attacks to institute draconian laws. Governments often justify excessive security measures, claiming that they are critical to maintain national security and that the people they are targeting are the terrorists, in this case the "salauds" who massacred 130 people on November 13. Unfortunately, they are also being used against climate protesters.

The state of emergency is old legislation, which has its origins in the Algerian war in the 1950s. It has been pulled out of the cupboard, dusted off and modified to apply to 21st century terrorism. Under Article 16 of the Constitution of the Fifth Republic of France, a state of emergency can issue the president with sweeping powers, enabling them to take "any measures required" in the event that the "institutions of the Republic, the independence of the nation, the integrity of its territory or the fulfillment of its international commitments are gravely and immediately threatened and the regular functioning of the constitutional public authorities is interrupted." This power was first used on April 23, 1961, to contain a military coup in Algeria and quell calls for Algerian independence; in other words, it was first used to protect colonial rule.

It is cause for concern that France, with its proud identity as a bastion of civil liberties, is now joining a dubious list of governments that use security as a justification to cut down on individual rights. Like Rousseau, "I prefer liberty with danger to peace with slavery." The French Republic's motto is liberté, égalité, fraternité. Civil liberties and freedom of expression are enshrined in French law. The right to peaceably assemble was one of the Republic's founding principles, set out in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, one of the first charters of human liberties, which was later incorporated into the current French Constitution.

2015.12.1.Jagger.4Climate protesters climb on the Statue of the Republic. (Photo: Bianca Jagger)I am proud to be participating at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference, COP21, here in Paris, to show my solidarity with French people. My thoughts and prayers are with those who lost their lives in the horrific terrorist attacks of November 13, and with their loved ones. But I am very disturbed by the draconian measures being taken by the French government.

I first came to Paris from Nicaragua as a young girl, with a scholarship to study political science. It was here that I discovered the meaning of liberty, equality, the rule of law, habeas corpus - concepts I had only dreamed about in Nicaragua. French philosophers from the 18th century like Voltaire and Rousseau deeply influenced my view of the world. I hope that President Hollande will restore France's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and that these measures will be just a fleeting, authoritarian parenthesis during his presidency. As the French political philosopher Montesquieu said: "There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice."

This piece was originally published at The Huffington Post.

Opinion Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0500
"The Fossil Fuel Era Must Draw to a Close": A Message From the Marshall Islands to the World

One of the most passionate speeches of the opening day of the UN climate change conference in Paris was delivered by Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak. Thousands of residents from the Marshall Islands have already fled the Pacific island state, becoming climate change refugees because of rising sea levels. Loeak urged world leaders to end the fossil fuel era. "For us, COP 21 must be a turning point in history," Loeak says, "and one that gives us hope."


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

AMY GOODMAN: One of the most passionate speeches of the opening day of the UN climate change conference here in Paris was delivered by the Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak. Thousands of residents from the Marshall Islands have already fled the Pacific island state, becoming climate change refugees. Loeak urged world leaders to end the fossil fuel era.

CHRISTOPHER LOEAK: Everything I know and everyone I love is in the hands of all of us gathered here today. The climate we have known over many centuries has, in the matter of three short decades, changed dramatically before our very eyes. We are already limping from climate disaster to climate disaster, and we know there is worse to come. For us, COP21 must be a turning point in history and one that give us hope. Our Paris agreement must set a path for the safe climate future we all strive for. We all know, and much acknowledge, that the packets on the table now are not enough to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees. Although, they are a start in the right direction. Therefore, if it is to deliver the end we all seek, the Paris agreement must be designed for ambition.

It must send a message to the world that if we are to win the battle against climate change, the fossil fuel era must draw to a close to be replaced by clean, green energy future, free of the carbon pollution that is harming our air, stunting our growth, and suffocating our planet. It must set a [indiscernable] for our action to seize us ratcheting our national targets every five years. And it must assure countries as vulnerable as mine that the world's helping hand will be there when climate change, unfortunately and unavoidably, unleashes its devastating impacts.

AMY GOODMAN: Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak speaking here in Paris at the UN Climate Summit. When we come back, we'll speak with two climate negotiators who have taken their struggle to the streets. Stay with us.

News Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Pope Francis to World Leaders at UN Climate Summit: "We Are at the Limits of Suicide"

Pope Francis has warned that the world is heading toward suicide if more is not done to combat climate change. His message was directed at nearly 150 heads of state gathered in Paris for the UN Climate Summit to finalize pledges to make voluntary greenhouse gas emission cuts. On Monday, France and India launched an international alliance to deliver solar energy to some of the planet's poorest even as India continues to heavily promote coal power. India is expected to open a new coal plant every single month until 2020 as the country plans to double its coal production. Chinese President Xi Jinping called on the world's wealthiest nations to help the developing world adapt to a changing climate, as smog in Beijing climbed to more than 35 times safety levels set by the World Health Organization and the country ordered thousands of factories to be temporarily shut down.


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

AMY GOODMAN: As nearly 150 heads of state gathered here in Paris for what organizers called the largest-ever gathering of its kind, Pope Francis warned Monday the world is heading toward suicide if more is not done to combat climate change. The Pope made the remark aboard a plane at the end of a six-day trip to Africa.

POPE FRANCIS: [translated] We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word, I would say that we are at the limits of suicide. I'm certain that almost all of those who are in Paris at COP21 are conscious of this and want to do something.

AMY GOODMAN: Nearly 170 nations arrived here in Paris with pledges to make voluntary greenhouse gas emission cuts, but scientists say far more is needed to prevent catastrophic climate change. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the world needs to move much faster to address the crisis.

BAN KI-MOON:Paris must mark a decisive turning point. We need the world to know that we are headed toward lower emissions, climate resilient future, and there is no going back. The national climate plans submitted by more than 180 countries as of today cover close to 100 percent of global emissions. This is a very good start, but we need to go much faster, much farther if we are to limit the global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, France and India launched an international alliance to deliver solar energy to some of the planet's poorest. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the initiative.

NARENDRA MODI: One must turn to sun to power the future. As developing world leaps billions of people into prosperity, our hope for a sustainable planet rests on a bold global initiative. It will mean advanced countries living in a carbon space for developing countries to grow. It will create unlimited economic opportunities that will be the foundation of the new economy of the century. This is an alliance that brings together developed and developing countries.

AMY GOODMAN: While India is pushing solar energy, it's also heavily promoting coal power. India is expected to open a new coal plant every single month until 2020 as the country plans to double its coal production. Chinese President Xi Jinping called on the world's wealthiest nations to help the developing world adapt to a changing climate.

XI JINPING: [translated] The Paris agreement should help increase the investment and ensure the actions on climate change. Developed countries should keep their commitments to mobilizing $100 billion US dollars each year by 2020, and provide the stronger financial support to developing countries afterwards. It's also important to transfer climate-friendly technology to developing countries. The Paris agreement should help accommodate different conditions in various countries, emphasize on being practical and effective. We should respect differences, especially developing countries, in domestic policies, capacity building, and economic structure.

AMY GOODMAN: Chinese president Xi Jinping spoke in Paris as smog in Beijing climbed to more than 35 times safety levels set by the World Health Organization. China has ordered thousands of factories to be temporarily shut down.

News Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0500
How Black Lives Matter Came Back Stronger After White Supremacist Attacks

2015.12.1.BLM.1Black Lives Matter Minneapolis marches after the shooting by white supremacists. (Photo: Adja Gildersleve / Facebook)

When five protesters were shot by white supremacists in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 22, my world turned a bit upside down. My time as an activist there, from 2006-13, has largely informed how I organize and do movement building. I knew at a lot of the people involved and was quickly on the phone. The protesters' campaign demanded justice for Jamar Clark, an unarmed African American who was killed by Minneapolis police a week before.

I knew that the protest site, the Fourth Precinct Police Station on Plymouth Avenue, had previously been the location of a storefront center for black activism named The WAY. Thirty-five years ago, Police Chief Anthony Bouza bragged about how he would turn the site into a police station to show who was on top. Now the location spotlights the violent police role in institutionalized racism in Minnesota. It's no wonder that freelance shooters would show up.

At the same time, it's also no surprise that Black Lives Matter Minnesota quickly organized a mass march from the Fourth Precinct to City Hall the next day. But to fully appreciate this powerful response to the shootings, we need to realize how things might have gone differently. When many people hear about violent attack on their friends and fellow protesters, they react with numbness, shock and rage. Some are caught like deer in the headlights, unable to move because it seems beyond comprehension. Some simply want to fight back with violence, and others want to withdraw. Sometimes, though, we can see other options that strengthen our inner resiliency - the ability to acknowledge events, feel their effect and seek to heal by expressing the power we have in that moment.

That's precisely what the Black Lives Matter organizers did when they quickly planned a march to emphasize the seat of accountability, City Hall. Protesters knew not to withdraw, run or lay low after the violence. Instead, they showed up. The route itself is three miles and difficult to navigate since the city has built an extensive highway system that stands between the predominately black neighborhood of North Minneapolis and downtown. A result of racist urban planning practices, the highway cuts off tourism and commercial business that might spread from downtown. (In neighboring St. Paul this same highway included such obviously racist routing that the city of St. Paul later made a formal apology.)

2015.12.1.BLM.2(Photo: Black Lives Matter MPLS / Twitter)

Marchers at the front, anxious to begin moving, were restless and organizers worked to channel the energy. What they did was brilliant: They changed the chants from the familiar "Black, Lives, Matter" and used different confrontational, specific words that channeled the escalating energy. Knowing that tense people need to move their bodies, organizers led those who were there to circle the precinct, urging the demonstrators to "let them see our faces, let them know who is here." Organizing within a highly tense environment requires responsiveness to the moment. Rather than try to contain or minimize the intensity, the organizers found effective ways to channel it.

One of the wounded protesters, shot in the knee, came back to the precinct station, leaning heavily on a cane, determined to participate in the action. Cultural workers led a healing circle, local artists shared music and body workers set up a shack on wheels for private sessions if needed.

In the meantime, white activists went to Uptown - an upscale shopping district of mostly middle-class white people - where they challenged other whites to stand up against racist violence and speak out.

When the march was ready to head towards City Hall those in front had already practiced marching and could lead from their experience of having handled their own anxiety, sustaining their energy and then moving when the rest of the mass was ready to move with them. The route of the march made sense: It highlighted racial segregation in Minneapolis and illustrated the way that power should flow – from the struggle in the streets to the halls of justice.

Minneapolis has one of the most proactive and diverse city councils in the country. When Rep. Alondra Cano was running for office she personally called me to build a relationship. She and Rep. Keith Ellison are consistently engaged in the community by not only changing policies, but also supporting grassroots organizing. After the shootings Rep. Ellison tweeted, "As we continue our work on these critical issues, the safety of everyone at the Fourth Precinct must be our highest priority. Monday night's shootings are not the fault of the victims or the Black Lives Matter movement, which is committed to nonviolence."

2015.12.1.BLM.3A community meeting to figure out the next steps after the shooting. (Photo: Black Lives Matter MPLS / Twitter)

As one of the largest cities in the Midwest, Minneapolis organizing is successful due in part because of how diverse cultural practices have combined with grassroots organizing. A vibrant East African community, trans youth organizers and the largest urban population of indigenous people in the country each contribute. The quick and effective response to the attack was additionally made possible because local organizers, who have been movement building for decades in the Midwest, have been offering trainings on trauma and resiliency for the last year. Showing Up for Racial Justice, or SURJ - a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice - has supported white allies in Minnesota to talk to people in wealthy districts. The action in Uptown, for instance, was the result of a SURJ Minnesota chapter.

Meanwhile, in October, Training for Change held its three-day core training on direct education in Minneapolis - Training for Social Action Trainers - where Black Lives Matter demonstrators learned skills to confront challenges and facilitate difficult moments. Some organizers are also participants in the Training For Change Judith C. Jones Fellowship for Trainers of Color, as well as The Wildfire Project, which trains, supports and links grassroots groups, helping to lay the foundation for powerful movement building. In August, the Wildfire Project and Training for Change came together to train a number of those who have been active in this recent round of demonstrations.

Another important training, led by a group now known as Ayni, was finishing up the morning the news broke about Jamar Clark. Their approach, which they call the momentum model, "merges the traditions of mass protest and structure-based organizing to create a new tradition of mass protest in the United States." During the last hours of that training, Black Lives Matters Minneapolis organizers were applying momentum concepts to their work that would take place later that day - the occupation of the Fourth Precinct.

The strategy of the civil rights movement turns out to be as relevant in 2015 as in 1960. When white supremacists attack you with violence, increase the pressure of your nonviolent action. The reward the racists were hoping for - to intimidate you into submission or to evoke counter-violence - is not the reward you'll give them. Instead, you come back with stronger action, legitimate leaders applaud your nonviolence, and additional allies come forward. That's the way to win local struggles, whether in Montgomery, Birmingham or Minneapolis.

Opinion Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0500
On World AIDS Day 2015: HIV Orphans in India Struggle With the Disease and for Their Future

2015.12.1.IPS.mainDr. Ashok Rau, the executive trustee of Freedom Foundation, makes it a point to play with the HIV orphans to sustain a bonding. (Photo: Malini Shankar / IPS)

As the globe marks World AIDS Day, December 1, experts say still there is much to do to end the spread of HIV and Aids. Ending the Aids epidemic is part of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, to be reached by 2030.

UNAIDS says Asia and the Pacific have the second largest population of people living with HIV, at an estimated 4.8 million [4.1 million–5.5 million] people. Figures for India are difficult to pin down as there is a wide gap in data collection and dissemination.

According to a UNAIDS Gap report from 2014 said India has the third largest HIV epidemic in the world. In 2013, HIV prevalence in India was an estimated 0.3%. This equates to 2.1 million people living with HIV. In the same year, an estimated 130,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses.

India's HIV epidemic is slowing down with a 19 per cent decline in new HIV infections, 130,000 in 2013, and a 38% decline in AIDS-related deaths between 2005 and 2013. Despite this, 51 per cent of deaths in Asia are in India.

Children living with HIV face tremendous challenges. IPS correspondent Malini Shankar spent time with some of these children in Bangalore and this is what they shared with her (the names of all the children have been changed to protect their privacy):

Dr. Ashok Rau, the Chief Executive Officer and Executive Trustee of the Freedom Foundation in Bangalore said, spending time with these children "certainly helps, if done in a very sensitive way, because children and people living with HIV and AIDS still suffer from stigma and discrimination with social acceptance still very poor."

Neethi, 12, is new to the Freedom Foundation orphanage and is still feeling the difficulty of the transition.

"I am studying in the 6th Standard (grade). I was 2 ½-years-old when my mother died. I do not remember her face either. She died of HIV/AIDS. No I do not know how old she was or if she had it first or Dad had it first. After my mother's death my father left me in the care of my maternal grandparents."

She described how her father remarried and his second wife also had HIV. She went to live with them but she said she entered a hostile environment. She said at some point after her mother died, she was diagnosed with HIV.

"In the hospital I was admitted to the female paediatric ward. I had been put on a drip and my hand was swollen. So my dad was feeding me the evening supper. At 8.00p.m. the hospital staff sent my father packing because visiting hours were over. He was made to sit outside and my dad asked my step mother to feed me because no men were allowed to stay in the female paediatric ward. But my step mother refused to feed me and instead she took it and ate it herself," said Neethi.

After this Neethi's father decided to move her to the Freedom Foundation. "My father realised that my step mother was ill-treating and abusing me. My father brought me here and admitted me here. He is still alive, he visits me, showers me love, and calls me once a week. I am desperate and I crave for love because I feel the world does not care for people like me, counsellors tell me to be brave and to face the world."

Hamsini, 16, is fighting hard to come to terms with her future. Her father died a decade ago and her mother six years ago. "I did not know that my parents were HIV-positive. It was when my younger sister too succumbed to HIV that I was tested. It was not known for sure if I was HIV-positive because the test results were not conclusive."

She described the stigma attached to the disease and how she suffered. "After my parents and sister died, I was being stigmatised and discriminated, emotionally abused and insulted by relatives. I felt confounded at this new reality. Then I was brought here to Freedom Foundation and about three years ago when the tests confirmed that I too am HIV-positive."

Basavalinga, 15, comes from Gulbarga one of the northernmost districts in the state of Karnataka. "I came to the Freedom Foundation orphanage in 2009. My father died of HIV/AIDS in 2005 and my Mother died of HIV/AIDS in 2007. But I remember in 2004 when I was only four years old, someone had come and told me that I was suffering from an incurable disease. My parents took me to someone who branded me on my stomach with a hot iron rod. The scars are still there," he said.

"After both my parents succumbed to HIV/AIDS my uncles were taking care of me, but they started ill-treating me and discriminating me among other children. That is when I sensed that something was wrong. In 2007 I was tested for HIV and it was positive but my uncles took care of me till 2009 and that was when I was brought to Freedom Foundation orphanage. "

Tejas and his 14-year old brother Tarun come from Malur in Kolar district near Bangalore. Their entire family was hit hard by the disease. Both have been at the Freedom Foundation for six years. Tejas is not sure if he is HIV positive. "But my younger brother Tarun is HIV-positive. My father had three wives and he had two sons with each of his three wives but all my parents are now dead and gone, they all died of HIV/AIDS. I do not know if my stepbrothers are also HIV-positive," he said.

Ashok Rau, the Freedom Foundation's CEO told IPS, "Children need school fees, books, uniforms for effective integration. The criterion of seamless integration is education and life skills besides medication and effective counselling; many have got married and are living productive lives as young adults."

"Our counselling and support for integration has had some amazing success stories: some of our HIV orphans have gotten married, some others are working in leading multinationals, and corporate sector; it vindicates the need for education, training in life skills and mainstreaming these orphans." Rau said funds are badly-needed to keep the orphanage going.

News Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Museums Challenged to Sever Ties With Climate Deniers

In the past decade David Koch has poured vast sums of money into some of New York's most prominent cultural institutions - $100 million to renovate and rename the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, $65 million for the David H. Koch Plaza in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and $20 million for the David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing at the American Museum of Natural History.

Since 1997, Koch, who heads the oil and manufacturing conglomerate Koch Industries, has also provided at least $79 million in funding to groups that deny climate change and thwart government policies that would address it, according to Greenpeace.

His largesse is a particularly striking example of the money poured into cultural and scientific institutions by the oil and gas industry.

In Europe, BP sponsors four major arts institutions in the United Kingdom - the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, the Royal Portrait Gallery and the Tate; the Italian oil giant Eni is a main corporate partner of the Louvre; and Shell was a sponsor of a climate change exhibition at the Science Museum in London.

This kind of financial support garners a lot of love from its beneficiaries. Daniel Brodsky, chair of the Met, has hailed Koch for "his vision and generosity." Critics, meanwhile, say that this kind of giving is little more than "greenwashing" and have started a multi-national campaign to pressure scientific and cultural institutions to sever their financial ties to the fossil fuel industry.

"It's strategic marketing, that's why most [fossil fuel companies] line up for museum sponsorships - because it makes them look good in the public eye," said Robert Janes, author of Museums in a Troubled World and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship.

In September, a coalition of groups that includes the Natural History Museum, Art Not Oil and BP or Not BP? launched a campaign urging arts and cultural institutions and individual cultural agents to sign a pledge refusing to promote fossil fuel interests in their artistic and business practices by divesting from fossil fuels, refusing fossil fuel sponsorship and kicking fossil fuel executives off their boards. The Fossil Funds Free pledge now has over 300 signers, including playwright Caryl Churchill, artist and composer Jem Finer and comedian Francesca Martinez.

Most of the groups that have signed the appeal so far are smaller, progressive institutions that were never likely to gain support from fossil fuel corporations. However, for campaign organizers, the early signers of the pledge provide a baseline from which to pursue larger, more prominent organizations to become signatories.

This initiative follows on the heels of an open letter published in March by the Natural History Museum calling on natural history and science museums to sever their ties to the fossil fuel industry. It was signed by more than 100 climate scientists and received widespread media attention.

"You shouldn't have a science denier on the board of a science museum. It's a contradiction in terms," James Powell, former president of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, told Democracy Now!.

The appeal to museums to steer clear of fossil fuel funding comes at a time when budget cuts to arts and science funding in the United States have left museums feeling more pressure to tap private sector funding streams. According to a report by the American Alliance of Museums, in 2012 more than 67 percent of museums felt economic stress, yet only 14 percent reported increases in government support, versus 35 percent who reported decreases in government support.

Nonetheless, says Powell, citing the debates about the South Africa divestment movement of the 1980s, "there is a right side and a wrong side, and if I were president at one of these institutions today, I would be arguing that my institution needed to get on the right side of this issue."

While climate justice activists are busy trying to get fossil fuel companies out of museums, they are also developing innovative ways to bring their ideas into museums. Launched in September 2014, the mobile Natural History Museum is modeling what the role of a science museum can be when unbounded by corporate sponsorship and the strings that come attached with it.

Its exhibitions - an iconic polar bear roaming amid the detritus of industrial civilization, a feedback loop of clean water and water polluted by Koch Industries circulating between two tanks and a water fountain - highlight the sociopolitical forces that shape nature in a way rarely seen at a conventional museum.

The Natural History Museum's co-founder and director Beka Economopoulos has made presentations in the past year at the annual conventions of the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Science-Technology Centers. Now in the works is a new fossil fuel exhibition that will explain the fossil fuel ecosystem in the United States, which will debut in Houston in the spring.

With more museums in the United States than Starbucks and McDonalds combined, Economopoulos sees an opportunity to make a major cultural impact if museums break with the "authoritative neutrality" that she says has defined their aesthetic for generations.

"They see hundreds of thousands, even millions, of visitors a year, they're key spaces for bridging science to the public and educating people," Economopoulos said. "Imagine if this sector, these museums, became hubs for organizing and for communities feeling the brunt of the [climate] crisis to go and find solace and find solidarity."

The newspaper Naomi Klein calls "utterly unique," full of insightful dispatches from around the world, The Indypendent offers a fresh take on today's events.

News Tue, 01 Dec 2015 10:23:43 -0500
Inaccurate Diagnostic Tests Lead to Misdiagnosis, Death and FDA Scrutiny

There is a certain vulnerability when going to the doctor. When people have the option, they seek recommendations in order to find someone with whom they can build a trusting relationship. Yet, even if you can find a doctor you trust to literally have your life in her hands, there are many individuals involved that impact the quality of medical care for which there is no way to research. Now, the Federal Drug Administration is seeking to increase oversight in one crucial area that has come under increased scrutiny.

Advances in research have led to the development of medical tests that can detect thousands of conditions. Tests that would take days, if not weeks, to get results just a few decades ago can now give health care providers answers in mere hours or even minutes. From glucose testing to HIV tests, doctors and hospitals rely heavily on these tests in order to diagnose patients. Some tests, like pregnancy indicators, can be done in the doctor's office. Others are sent to labs which have their own rapid tests that can provide information quickly. Yet for several years now these tests, and the laboratories and technicians that administer them, have come under greater scrutiny due to errors that have led to misdiagnosis and even death.

Diagnostic tests are regulated differently depending on how they are manufactured and distributed. Currently, the FDA has to review and approve tests that are manufactured and sold commercially to multiple labs. It is the manufacturers' responsibility to inform the government if there has been a death or serious injury as a result of the tests, as well as if there is a recall. However, tests that are manufactured by and for use in a single lab do not fall under FDA review. Often these "waived tests" are based off commercially approved ones, though their accuracy may vary.

Over the years, lab developed tests have claimed to be able to detect ovarian cancer, heart disease risk, and even fetal abnormalities. A recent investigation by the FDA has discovered that many of these claims have not been scientifically supported. Doctors and patients have made treatment decisions based on information that was ultimately false. This has resulted in unnecessary treatments, or the wrong treatment for a condition, as well as abortions or drastic surgeries in order to correct a condition that ultimately did not exist.

Whether it's a commercial testing kit or a waived test, the accuracy is also highly dependent on which laboratory is used and who in the lab performs the test. In an investigative report published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in October, they found that more than half the time, directions on how to perform the test were not followed, expired products were used, chemicals weren't properly refrigerated or stored, and labs performed tests they were not authorized to do. They also found that there is little to no training and education for lab technicians who perform the tests. Furthermore, of the more than 180,000 labs in the United States, barely one percent of these labs are ever inspected - and most are done by private companies which charge for doing so.

The problem is that current law allows waived tests to be used without oversight. Passed by Congress in 1988 the law allowed labs to administer simple tests that were proven to have little risk of being inaccurate, or, if an incorrect result did occur, a patient would not be harmed. At the time the law passed, there were only eight tests, such as a simple urinalysis, that qualified. Today there are over 3000 waived tests.

In addition, most of these tests are much more complex than a simple testing strip. Even with detailed instructions, often with pictures, technicians and even nurses can perform tests incorrectly. Some are so sensitive that if a sample does not incubate for the exact amount of time, or if more than one drop of blood is used, the results will be inaccurate. Doctors rely on these results, not knowing how the testing was done, and patients have to make decisions based on the information their doctor provides.

Makers of these diagnostic tests are unsurprisingly not supportive of more regulation, highlighting that current law doesn't allow the FDA to oversee these labs. Nevertheless, the Obama administration is seeking ways to exert authority over this sector, which many doctors and laboratories welcome. Many detractors fear that excess oversight would stunt innovation, but supporters argue that the right regulation can still foster innovation and provide safety by separating the bad tests from the good.

News Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0500
The Lee of the Door: Planned Parenthood and Freedom

2015.12.1.Pitt.mainDennis Apuan holds a sign at a vigil for victims of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood mass shooting, at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, November 28, 2015. The deaths of two civilians and one police officer jarred a state that has recently seen a string of mass shootings. (Photo: Nick Cote / The New York Times)

In late December of 1994, an anti-choice extremist named John Salvi walked into the Planned Parenthood clinic on Commonwealth Avenue in Brookline, Massachusetts, and opened fire with a rifle. By the time he was done, there were seven bodies on the floor. Two were dead, and five were wounded. Among the dead was 38-year-old Lee Ann Nichols, who took ten bullets before she died to the sound of Salvi shouting, "This is what you get!"

Salvi ran to Norfolk, Virginia, where he shot up another Planned Parenthood clinic. No one was injured in that incident. He was arrested, tried and convicted for the murders of Lee Ann Nichols and Shannon Lowney. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms, with 18-20 years added for assault. He served his time at MCI Cedar Junction in Walpole, Massachusetts, one of the darkest holes in all of North America, until November 29, 1996. Salvi's body was found that day in his cell with a garbage bag tied around his head. The coroner ruled it a suicide.

Today, the Planned Parenthood clinic on Commonwealth Avenue is a fortress. There are no windows, and only one door. To enter, you must pass through a small lobby area and empty your pockets for the metal detector, precisely as if you were boarding an airplane. After that, you pass through a door and enter a small box about twice the size of an old phone booth. The door closes behind you, and you are faced with a huge reinforced metal door before you that can only be opened by one of the clinic employees on the inside, after they check you out through a small rectangular window. All the while, you are under the watchful eye of an armed guard, who has on his desk a dozen small monitors that carry feeds from cameras placed within and without. Nothing, but nothing, is left to chance. Not after Salvi.

I have passed through that door on several occasions, accompanying friends without health insurance seeking affordable OBGYN care. Why did my friends ask me to come? Because my friends were frightened, because like as not the door to the clinic was clotted with Jesus-shouters seeking to intimidate women from accessing the services they need. Sometimes they just stand there and drone, "Praise God ... Praise God ... Praise God." Other times, however, they are far more aggressive.

One friend I escorted had a man charge at her shouting, "Don't kill your baby!" while brandishing a Bible like a club. I yelled back, "She's getting a pap smear, you stupid asshole!" which was true ... but he kept roaring "Don't kill your baby!" with his eyes bugging and his lips flecked with white spittle. My friend almost fled, but with my support, she was able to get inside safely, and the noise of his rage diminished to nothing with the slow closing of the door. It was good she made it inside; the doctor found pre-cancerous cells on her cervix and saved her life. She was one of two friends I walked in through the mayhem whose lives were saved by those doctors and nurses. They would not be here today, but for the Planned Parenthood clinic on Commonwealth Avenue.

There is a bright white line on the sidewalk demarcating by law where the protesters can and cannot be outside the clinic, but the span from the car across the sidewalk to that door is wider than the Mississippi River when the shouters find their bull-throated roar. They were disturbing enough. The shadow of John Salvi hangs long and low over that facility, however, and the most disturbing part of all was the tingle of fear upon entry, the idea that another Salvi might make it through that hard door and empty his clip in a fit of fury.

Welcome to the world of Planned Parenthood. The fact that it takes courage to dispense medical services, that it takes courage - Courage! - to avail yourself of those services under threat of assault or even death spits in the eye of the idea that this is a nation of freedom. Planned Parenthood provides basic, affordable OBGYN care, breast cancer exams and contraception for people not fortunate enough to have another option.

Planned Parenthood clinics also offer abortions. It's the law, it's a right. Does the so-called "pro-life" crowd recognize this in the context of Friday's shooting in Colorado? Let's see what Twitter has to say:

"No sympathy for any pregnant female who was injured in the Planned Parenthood shooting that was there to get an abortion. She deserved it." - Ryan
"We should terminate the 500,000 female humans. They could have protected sex. But they're too lazy & slutty." - Tyranny Hunter
"Active Shooter Colorado Planned Parenthood. I would think this brave HERO is saving innocent Baby lives!" - David J. Goodwin

In counterpoint, I offer a few testimonials from friends who responded to a question I asked about the deaths at the Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic:

"I stand with them as they bravely provide affordable safe & legal health care in the face of violent threats to themselves & their families every day." - K.
"I stand with PP because when I didn't have a pot, or a window, I was able to go to them for much needed gynecological care and then pre-natal care. They are kind and caring not to mention they risk their lives on a daily basis giving women, and some men, reasonably priced healthcare." - J.
"I used Planned Parenthood in my 20s so I would never need to have an abortion. I am grateful they were there for that reason! For that reason I stand with Planned Parenthood." - L.
"I support Planned Parenthood because it helps many with medical care who could not otherwise afford it; because I am a woman; because half of the population is female; because it is a legally operating entity; and because supporting PP pushes back against those whose goal is to subjugate women." - A.

The man with the gun who killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado allegedly told the arresting officers "No more baby parts" when taken into custody, referencing a wildly discredited meme proffered by Fox News and other right-wing outlets. The rest of the "news" media has been very delicate in their reporting. They use the noun, "gunman," and the adjective, "disgruntled," while avoiding the more accurate term: "terrorist."

This is the war on women, underscored. The bellowers who cluster outside these clinics are preventing women from getting checked for cervical cancer, for breast cancer, preventing them from getting birth control, basic OBGYN care and abortions. Why? They would rather see women dead than see them free, and some of them take up arms to reinforce the point.

I have passed through that steel door after elbowing through a crowd of Bibles accompanying friends into a place that saved their lives. Lives were lost - on Commonwealth Avenue, in Colorado Springs and many other places besides - to guarantee that possibility. Lives are risked every day to continue that promise. I stand with Planned Parenthood, shoulder to shoulder and back to back. It has saved more people than those sidewalk-bound nitwits have ever met.

On the lee of that door lies freedom. That it requires steel, fear and an armed guard is a disgrace beyond reckoning. I stand with Planned Parenthood. So should you.

Opinion Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0500
How the US Would React to Planned Parenthood Attacks in an Alternate Universe ]]> Art Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0500