Truthout Stories Wed, 28 Jan 2015 11:28:47 -0500 en-gb The Kochs Will Spend $1 Billion on the 2016 Elections, but Deny It

The political network organized by Charles and David Koch plans to spend an incredible $889 million to capture the White House in 2016 and deepen the Koch party's bench in Congress. But that's not what they'll tell federal regulators.

If history is a guide, the Koch network will claim that much of the nearly $1 billion it will funnel through an array of nonprofit groups is not about elections at all. Instead, the Koch groups will claim that their efforts to elect politicians who will lower capital gains taxes and overturn environmental regulations is really all about "social welfare." 

That's what happened during the last presidential cycle.

The Kochs' main political advocacy arm, Americans for Prosperity, spent $122 million in 2012--more than it had spent in its previous eight years of existence combined--but told the IRS that the vast majority of its spending had nothing to do with elections. AFP reported spending less than a quarter of its overall expenditures on electoral intervention, around $33.5 million, about the same amount that it reported in spending to the Federal Elections Commission. 

Another group in the Koch network, the 60 Plus Association, spent around $18 million in the 2012 election year, but told the IRS that only $35,000 of that total had anything to do with electoral politics. Similarly, American Commitment spent $11.5 million in 2012, but told the IRS it spent only $1.86 million on elections. Wisconsin Club for Growth told the IRS that it spent $0 on elections in 2011 and 2012, despite spending $9.1 million on Wisconsin's recall elections and working closely with Scott Walker's campaign; the Center for Media and Democracy filed a complaint against the group last year.

Most of the groups in the ever-expanding Koch universe are nonprofits organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, whose primary activity is supposed to be "social welfare" rather than electoral politics. In turn, these nonprofits are allowed to keep their donors secret.

The Koch nonprofits assert that any ads or activities that don't expressly tell viewers how to vote should count as "social welfare" rather than electoral intervention, a claim that in many cases would appear to be contradicted by IRS guidance and court decisions.

But a recent Center for Public Integrity analysis found that the IRS, hobbled by budget cuts and under intense political pressure, almost never audits nonprofits engaged in excessive political activity.

Politically active nonprofits are simply “not afraid of the IRS or anybody else on this matter,” Paul Streckfus, a former exempt organizations division employee, told CPI. “Anything goes as far as spending.”

The IRS proposed new rules for nonprofit political activity in late 2013, but pulled the guidelines amidst criticism that the proposal was both over- and under-inclusive. Groups like the Bright Lines Project have been urging the IRS to go back to the drawing board, but it is very unlikely that any new guidelines will be in place before the 2016 elections.

Which means that the Kochs will have free reign in 2016 not only to pour astonishing amounts of money into US elections, but--in contrast with traditional parties--to do so in secret, without disclosing the financial interests behind the spending. 

The $1 billion the Koch network plans to spend in 2016 should dispel any doubts that the Kochs are operating their own secretly-funded shadow political party.

The level of resources that the Kochs and their donor-allies can muster can determine political futures. (Just ask Joni Ernst.) The "Koch primary" is now a vital part of the GOP presidential race, where Oval Office hopefuls like Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio drop everything to attend Koch confabs. For Republican presidential contenders, appealing to the handful of wealthy donors in the Koch network is at least as important as building support among voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

And as the Kochs continue to ramp up their political spending, it will only further solidify the network's role as a dominant (and shadowy) force in US elections.

News Wed, 28 Jan 2015 10:41:36 -0500
"Selma": A Beautifully Shot Film Shows How Change Really Happens

I’ll admit that Selma caught me off guard. My first thought, seeing its star, David Oyelowo, adjust his tie in the opening scene, was “That’s Dr. King.” Few movies have brought Martin Luther King Jr. to the silver screen, Ali (2001) and The Butler (2013) being the most recent exceptions. A handful of TV films and miniseries have featured depictions of King, but his life and work have seldom, if ever, received the delicate, human nuance that director Ava DuVernay and Oyelowo offer.

It’s with this care that Selma offers a valuable and all-too-rare history lesson in how social movements both work and win.

It’s also rare to see a film explore the complex inner workings of popular movements from the perspective of those driving them. Watching the story unfold, I realized how totally bizarre it is that reviewers on the website Rotten Tomatoes mention Selma and The Help (2011) in the same breath. Contrary to The Help’s tagline, transformative change does not “begin with a whisper” or—historically—with a white woman bonding with her black maid.

Yes, both stories are based in the South of the 1960s and illustrate racism, but Selma is a film about skilled organizers building a movement; if you’re really hungry for a comparison, check out Gandhi (1982), Che (2008), Milk (2008) and TV movies Freedom Song (2000) and Iron Jawed Angels (2004).

Selma, though, stands in a category all its own; historian Peniel E. Joseph rightfully calls it “the most complex and intellectually satisfying civil rights movie ever made.” Neither a “great man” history of King (or, thankfully, of President Lyndon B. Johnson) nor an outsized tale about forgotten underdogs, Selma—as much as any movie might hope to—captures both King’s greatness as a leader and the dedicated team of men and, refreshingly, women who made the movement and its considerable victories possible.

The film drops viewers into a relatively late stage in the civil rights movement, 10 years after the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. By this time, King was a celebrity; Selma’s first scene shows him receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. And his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or SCLC, was a well-oiled machine, driving confidently into Selma to make good on his promise of forcing then-President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) into the voting rights debate. In many states throughout the South, all citizens were constitutionally (read: technically) guaranteed the right to vote. However, poll taxes and other bureaucratic hurdles made it virtually impossible for the vast majority of African Americans to do so.

DuVernay follows King—along with movement heavyweights Andrew Young, John Lewis, Ralph Abernathy, and more—through their three-month tenure in Selma, Alabama, where just 1 percent of blacks were registered to vote despite making up more than 50 percent of the population.

The film tracks the campaign’s first moves and confrontation with Sheriff Jim Clark (Stan Houston), as hundreds of black Selma residents demand entry into the county’s voter registration office, which was open just twice a month.

Regular protests continue for weeks, with Selma police and white mobs growing increasingly violent toward protesters. Two of them, Boston preacher James Reeb and teenager Jimmie Lee Jackson, are killed. The drama of both the movie and the actual campaign climaxes on “Bloody Sunday,” the violent showdown between state troopers and nonviolent protesters, who, broadcast live on national television, brought the public’s attention to the issue of voting rights. The film ends as Johnson reluctantly champions the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before Congress and the American public in a live, televised address.

As alluded to in the film, the success of King and the SCLC in Selma was built on the foundation laid by local activists and another civil rights group, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (or SNCC, usually pronounced “snick”). Although the SCLC was made up primarily of older, established movement leaders, the students of SNCC—represented in Selma by John Lewis and James Foreman—injected a youthful militancy into the civil rights movement after the group’s founding in 1960, with field organizers throughout the South leading aggressive and often scrappy campaigns for voting rights and desegregation. Students like Foreman and Lewis had been organizing voter registration drives in Selma since 1963, but faced vicious opposition from county law enforcement officials and the local Ku Klux Klan that made the task exceedingly difficult.

DuVernay shows us just a snapshot of the work that happened in Selma, but it’s an important one. The city was carefully chosen. Alabama Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth) and Sheriff Clark had already proven themselves villains as cartoonishly obstinate as Bull Connor, the commissioner of public safety in Birmingham, Alabama, whose brutality in conducting that city’s police department helped land the movement on national television and spark public outrage. The coverage helped to dismantle any misconceptions of some genteel, contented Jim Crow South.

The film suggests that obstinacy extended to the White House. “He’ll ignore us if he can,” King says in the film of President Johnson’s stance on voting rights before the Selma campaign. “The only way to stop him from doing this is being on the front page of The New York Times every morning and on the TV news every night.” In a move that angered some student organizers who’d been carefully cultivating relationships there, SCLC members rapidly escalated the situation in Selma in order to put Johnson’s feet to the fire.

The Selma campaign was a prime example of one of King’s favorite tactics: nonviolent war. In a 1985 interview, movement leader James Bevel (played by rapper Common in the film), reflected that “if a young person could go to Vietnam and engage in a war, then [a] person … the same age or younger could engage in a nonviolent war.”

As civil rights historian Emilyne Crosby points out, it was “female agitator” and seasoned strategist Diane Nash (played by an underutilized Tessa Taylor) who first urged organizers to take up nonviolent war, resulting in the 1961 fight to desegregate the South’s public transit system. In that campaign, young white and black activists intentionally heightened—simply by riding integrated buses from the north into the South—the conflict with racist white mobs and law enforcement, who waited along the bus routes. Knowing they would be arrested, students publicized the rides and overwhelmed city jail systems to force otherwise passive observers to take sides: with nonviolent students or the people beating them. National news coverage quickly caught on; images of the “Freedom Riders” being beaten in the streets flooded Americans’ nightly news programs.

The fault, activists argued, lay with the White House: They could desegregate transit or have blood on their hands. Faced with mounting pressure, then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy finally pushed the Interstate Commerce Commission to integrate.

War, in Selma, isn’t an overstatement. DuVernay doesn’t shy away from the emotional and physical battle scars worn by the movement, showing a nearly frame-by-frame recreation of the Bloody Sunday confrontation on Edmund Pettus Bridge. She pays careful attention to the toll that violence and constant fear of death took on King and his wife, Coretta Scott (deftly portrayed by British actress Carmen Ejogo).

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect time for Selma’s release: on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and amid the Black Lives Matter movement, which demands, yet again, we wake up and fight for justice.

Aside from being a masterfully constructed, beautifully shot film, Selmaallows viewers to imagine what it would mean to—in the slightly wonkish words of SCLC organizer Bayard Rustin—“break down” the institution of racism “into the tangible tactics it takes to dismantle it.”

In simpler terms, Selma offers a window into the past that might just help tackle the problems of the present.

Opinion Wed, 28 Jan 2015 10:29:17 -0500
Doomsday Clock Creeps Toward Midnight

The next generation has good reason to be afraid: Representatives of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have just reset the iconic Doomsday Clock, bringing us even closer to midnight. At the toll of the bell, they warn, the globe faces apocalypse — and while the clock above is set at five minutes to twelve, that’s so 2012. This month, they jumped the clock ahead by two minutes, to three minutes to midnight. If we don’t do something soon, they warn, we may be facing an ugly future.

Researchers first developed the Doomsday Clock in 1947, initially as a metaphor for the risk of nuclear war. The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is responsible for maintaining it, with a board of consultants that meets twice annually to determine if the clock should be advanced, rewound, or left as it is. 60 years later, the organization added concerns about climate change and other environmental factors to their calculations in order to generate a more accurate reflection of global conditions.

1953 marked the Doomsday Clock’s nadir, when the clock stood at just one minute to midnight in response to nuclear testing conducted by both the United States and Russia. It served as a sober warning that if both nations didn’t cooperate to develop a more friendly relationship, they might annihilate each other and pose significant risks for the rest of the globe. In the following years, the clock moved back and forth to reflect long-term trends observed by members of the board that met to determine whether to reset the clock. By 1991, the landscape had shifted, with the fall of the Soviet Union and a more open political climate leading to a decision to wind the clock all way back to 17 minutes to midnight.

Since 1991, however, the clock has been pushing inexorably towards midnight, and the recent decision marks an ominous moment. The organization declares that it’s concerned with two factors that may be pushing the globe towards a crisis point. One hearkens back to the origins of the clock: Nuclear arsenals. Despite repeated and systemic attempts to get the world to cooperate on destroying nuclear arsenals and securing remaining nuclear material, countries like the United States and Russia are still clinging to nuclear munitions and escalating political tensions pose a significant global threat.

Researchers are also frustrated by inaction on climate change. Numerous global conferences on the subject have failed to achieve meaningful policy and change, though some nations are moving toward implementation of emissions reduction and other measures to reduce their ecological footprints. Overall, however, the global climate is shifting and big players on the global stage, like the United States, appear reluctant to take a regulatory role and a global lead in addressing the issue. Moving the clock forward is a stark reminder that the world is running out of time unless the international community can act swiftly on the issue.

The clock is not intended to act as a literal countdown to doomsday. Rather, it’s a symbolic representation of the political situation on Earth and how it may influence our future prospects of survival. The closer it moves to midnight, the more imperative it is that we act. The further away we move, the better we’re doing at addressing issues of concern to build a more stable world to pass on to future generations. It’s worrying that the clock hasn’t moved backward since 1991, a sign that we are engaged in a dangerous progression towards another breaking point like 1953.

News Wed, 28 Jan 2015 10:20:14 -0500
BPA Exposure Linked to Changes in Stem Cells, Lower Sperm Production

BPA and other estrogenic compounds hamper development of the stem cells responsible for producing sperm in mice, which suggests such exposure could contribute to declining sperm counts in men, according to a new study.

The study, published in PLoS Genetics, is the first to suggest that low, brief exposures to bisphenol-A, or other estrogens such as those used in birth control but found as water contaminants, early in life can alter the stem cells responsible for producing sperm later in life.

Exposure to estrogens “is not simply affecting sperm being produced now, but impacting the stem cell population, and that will affect sperm produced throughout the lifetime,” said Patricia Hunt, a geneticist at Washington State University who led the study.

BPA is a ubiquitous chemical found in most people and used to make polycarbonate plastic and found in some food cans and paper receipts. People also are exposed to synthetic estrogens used in birth control as they are commonly found contaminating water, even after treatment. 

The US Food and Drug Administration banned BPA from baby bottles in 2012 but maintains that BPA currently used in food containers and packaging is safe. And this week the European Food Safety Authority announced in a new assessment there is “no consumer health risk from bisphenol-A exposure.”

However, Hunt’s study adds to evidence that low doses of the compound may harm us.

Hunt and colleagues exposed some newborn mice to BPA and some newborn mice to a synthetic estrogen used in birth control pills and hormone therapy.

These exposures – comparable to human exposures to the compounds -- caused “permanent alterations” to the stem cells responsible for sperm production, the authors wrote.

The researchers also transplanted the stem cells into unexposed mice and verified the impacts to sperm development.

It is “sobering evidence” for possible harmful impacts from short-term exposure, said Mary Ann Handel, a senior research scientist with The Jackson Laboratory, which specializes in genetics research.

Scientists previously found BPA exposure impacts mice testis size and sperm development and prostate growth. But what Hunt and colleagues did was different – they found a possible reason why these things happen: changes to the stem cells, which are vital for male reproduction.

“The negative effects of estrogenic chemicals on the developing male include an expanding list of subtle changes to the developing brain, reproductive tract, and testis,” the authors wrote. “Changes in all three have the potential to induce major reproductive repercussions and … the biological underpinnings remain unclear.”

Over the past few decades, researchers have noted declining sperm counts and quality in places such as Europe, Japan and the United States. In Denmark, more than 40 percent of young men have sperm counts associated with infertility or decreased fertility.

“When you show you’re impacting a stem cell – that’s a huge deal,” said University of Missouri scientist Frederick vom Saal, who was not part of the study. “This exposure could very well be the basis for transgenerational loss of sperm production.”

Sperm production is a continuous process: Once males hit puberty and start producing sperm, stem cells slowly divide and give rise to new cells to produce sperm.

And, while there are some limits in using mice and extrapolating findings to humans, the reproductive systems’ “fundamentals are the same,” Hunt said.

However, Steven Hentges of the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, said in an emailed response that multiple large studies "consistently find no reproductive effects in males or females at any dose remotely close to the levels of BPA to which people are actually exposed."

He said Hunt's study is of "limited relevance to human health" and that the doses used were much higher than actual human exposure. 

Hunt said that is not true. 

"The levels we used are based on previous studies and produce very low levels in blood that are lower than those reported in humans," Hunt said. 

Vom Saal said it’s important in future studies to see if the stem cell changes from exposure are passed to future generations. Evidence suggests that estrogenic compounds appear to alter the ability of genes to function properly, a phenomenon referred to as epigenetic changes.

When such changes happen, it can mean similar problems in sperm production for future generations. And “since most people are consistently exposed to BPA and other estrogenic compounds, each generation could have it a bit worse,” vom Saal said.

Hunt and colleagues did run into one problem – there are secondary impacts, such as fluid retention, which make it difficult to take the stem cell research to the next level and look at correlations in sperm cell counts and measures of reproductive ability.

“Exposure is not just affecting cells in testis but the whole animal,” Hunt said.

Hunt admits this is “complicated genetics stuff,” but said the consequences are quite important.

“This implicates cells way upstream” and could mean problems for “subsequent generations after exposure,” she said.

News Wed, 28 Jan 2015 10:07:02 -0500
Science Stuff ]]> Art Wed, 28 Jan 2015 09:50:05 -0500 Revealed: Asteroid That Killed the Dinosaurs Boiled Earth's Atmosphere

The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs set off an intense heat wave that briefly boiled the Earth’s atmosphere – but it didn’t burn off all the plants.

Humanity has not been unlucky enough to observe at first hand the effects of a large impact, so to investigate whether a massive asteroid would spark off a global wildfire we had to turn to the laboratory. We have modelled, for the first time, the heat generated by the impact and what it meant for the planet’s plants. Our research is published in the Journal of the Geological Society.

This all happened 65m years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. Suddenly, between 60 and 80% of all living species became extinct. Until the 1980s, this catastrophic loss of life was a mystery, but then scientists found a clue – traces of the element iridium in rocks of this age. Iridium generally falls to Earth with extraterrestrial objects. This suggested a massive asteroid collided with the planet and that this could be responsible for the mass extinction.

Ten years later, scientists found the 65m year-old, 180km wide, Chicxulub crater on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, which finally provided the smoking gun that could explain the apparent chaos at the end of the Cretaceous era. A crater that wide suggests that an asteroid or comet approximately 10km wide hit the Earth.

The impact would have released a huge amount of energy – equivalent to more than a billion Hiroshima bombs. The asteroid itself was vaporised as it smashed into the Earth and in doing so vaporised and blasted out particles of the rock that it hit.

A huge glowing ball of hot rock and vapour rushed up from the impact site at huge speeds, ejecting it way above the atmosphere up into space. As it hit the cold of space it decelerated, cooled and rained back through the atmosphere, re-solidifying and forming tiny droplets of rock known as “spherules”.

As these spherules fell through the atmosphere they were subject to the same frictional-drag which causes space shuttles to become super-heated as they return to earth. This in turn meant as the particles rained down through the atmosphere they delivered a massive blast of heat to the ground. Scientists call this a “thermal pulse”.

This heat pulse has widely been suggested to have ignited global wildfires and has been cited as a cause of the mass extinction.

Recreating the Impact

New computer modelling techniques have enabled us to generate better estimates of the heat pulse resulting from this impact. We found it wasn’t evenly distributed across the surface of the Earth. Areas close to the impact site experienced a strong but very short-lived pulse – reaching a peak heat flux of around 50kW/m2 (20 times higher than a human can tolerate) for around one and a half minutes.

Further away, the maximum heat flux was lower – a peak of 20kw/m2 – but lasted much longer – up to seven and a half minutes.

We teamed up earth scientists with fire safety engineers to investigate whether this heat would lead to a massive global wildfire. The heat pulse from the asteroid impact was recreated using state-of-the-art apparatus usually used to test the flammability of furnishings and materials. This provided, for the first time, the ability to test whether the heat pulse from the impact could have set fire to the world’s plants.

Our research reveals that the short sharp blast of heat felt closer to the impact could not have ignited live plants.

However the longer drawn out pulse further away from the impact may have started fires in some locations, implying that localised fires may have occurred. But critically “global firestorms” were unlikely.

This turns our understanding of the heat pulse on its head as its effects would have been greater further away from the impact. Earth scientists will have to reassess their understanding of the fossil record of life. Until now they have assumed the heat pulse was strongest closer to the crater, but now patterns of extinction and survival must be reinterpreted by considering a more severe heat pulse further away.

News Wed, 28 Jan 2015 09:33:03 -0500
Tar Sands Pipeline Planned for Dane County Eclipses KXL

Whether or not the Keystone XL pipeline will transport tar sands oil from Canada through the United States has been framed as one of the critical decisions affecting our climate and our future as a planet. But a proposed expansion of the Enbridge Line 61 pipeline being debated in Dane County, Wisconsin may be even more critical. The tripling in capacity of Line 61 will make it a third larger than the projected Keystone XL.

Notices at the site of Line 61, which carries tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to Illinois. Lawmakers are planning to triple its 400,000 barrel capacity. (Photo: Light Brigading)Notices at the site of Line 61, which carries tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to Illinois. Lawmakers are planning to triple its 400,000 barrel capacity. (Photo: Light Brigading)

Madison -- Whether or not the Keystone XL pipeline will transport tar sands oil from Canada through the United States has been framed as one of the critical decisions affecting our climate and our future as a planet. But a proposed expansion of the Enbridge Line 61 pipeline being debated in Dane County, Wisconsin may be even more critical.

The tripling in capacity of Line 61, which already carries Tar Sands crude oil from Alberta to Illinois, will make it a third larger than the projected Keystone XL.

"On the Front Lines of Our Fight against Climate Change"

"The last real line of defense against this expansion is an obscure zoning committee in Dane County, Wisconsin, which is scheduled to meet on January 27 to decide whether to attach conditions to Enbridge's permit for a new pump station," wrote Dan Kaufman recently in the New York Times.

But Peter Anderson of 350 Madison told CMD, "This is not an arcane regulatory proceeding in some back room. This is on the front lines of our fight against climate change and to achieve climate action."

Enbridge Line 61 went into operation in 2009. When the company proposed the expansion, the Walker administration's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued the company an air quality permit for a storage tank needed for the expansion in 2014, but did not require a new environmental assessment for the tripling in capacity.

Now the Dane County Board's Zoning and Land Regulation Committee is considering attaching conditions to the permit for the new pump station -- which will be needed to pump the thicker Tar Sands oil through the line, even when diluted with the chemical solvents added to make it move more easily -- to provide Wisconsinites with a greater measure of environmental protection.

History of Dirty Tar Sands Oil Spills

Kaufman told CMD that Enbridge Line 61 hasn't received the national attention that the Keystone XL Pipeline has because "the pipeline itself already has been built and it is carrying roughly 400,000 barrels of Tar Sands-derived and lighter conventional crude oil already. The environmental assessment that was done in 2006 was prior to one of the largest spills -- probably the largest inland oil spill -- in American history, which was a spill by this company, Enbridge, who also owns Line 61."

Kaufman was referring to Enbridge's disastrous Kalamazoo River oil spill in Michican in July 2010, which took an estimated $1.21 billion and four years to partially clean up. A Sierra Club report detailed that since 1999, Enbridge has had 800 spills, including spills in Wisconsin and neighboring states. Enbridge was fined a record $2.4 million in connection to an explosion that killed two workers in Clearbrook, Minnesota.

After the Kalamazoo spill, Enbridge was strongly criticized by the National Transportation Safety Board for lapses, including ignoring alarms in their system and trying to restart the pipeline twice, which discharged more oil.

Enbridge claims to have invested several billion dollars more in improving its response since the Kalamazoo River disaster, but as Kaufman noted, there have been spills since.

Tripling the Capacity is "Tripling the Risk"

That's how the Dane County Board's Zoning and Land Regulation Committee ended up being what Kaufman called the "last real line of defense against this expansion."

Supervisor Patrick Miles is the chair of that committee. He recently told Madison's community radio station WORT, "Tripling that capacity to me is... tripling the risk." Compared to the Kalamazoo River spill, in which 800,000 gallons of Tar Sands crude spilled over the course of 17 hours, Miles said that "at the volume of what we're talking about here, in an hour's time, if there's a spill at the proposed flow rate, we'd be talking about more than 2,000,000 gallons of the Tar Sands [oil] spilling. That's a lot of oil."

Kaufman pointed out that Enbridge's track record of spills, as well as the fact that much of the increased capacity of the line will consist of Tar Sands oil, could potentially increase that risk.

Because of the nature of Tar Sands oil, when it spills into bodies of water, the chemical solvents separate and are released as toxic gases, whereas the crude oil itself sinks because it's heavier than water. Other oil floats, which is essential for existing clean-up techniques. "Nobody really knows how to clean up Tar Sands spills," Kaufman pointed out.

Enbridge Threatens Dane County with a Lawsuit

Given the risks, Chairman Miles says the committee is considering imposing two conditions on Enbridge in giving it the conditional land use permits it needs to continue with the expansion. The first would be a requirement for Enbridge to have added pollution liability insurance in case there is a spill that Enbridge can't afford to clean up, so that Dane County isn't left footing the bill. The other would be a requirement for a new environmental impact statement, given the added capacity and the risks of a rupture or spill.

The latter is a condition that Kaufman says should be mandated, especially given the larger picture issue of climate change: "People need to look at these pipelines in terms of their cumulative effect on climate change. You can always argue that one pipeline is not going to make that much of a difference here or there, but unless an assessment is done looking at the whole picture, you're missing out on the biggest problem, which is its effect on climate change," he said. NASA scientist James Hansen is one of the most prominent scientists who have warned that if the Canadian Tar Sands are burned, it "will be game over for the climate."

Enbridge has threatened a lawsuit against the county if the committee does not approve the permit as is. It has called the additional insurance being proposed "cost prohibitive" and says its current $700 million insurance policy is sufficient. The Kalamazoo River clean up has cost Enbridge $1.21 billion as of November 2014.

"Does the Public Have the Right to Be Protected" from Corporate Power?

"Asking our communities to risk suffering the consequences of near-inevitable spills that could easily equal or exceed the Kalamazoo River disaster, so that Tar Sands companies can send their dangerous, polluting product to the Gulf Coast, the East Coast, and overseas, is an all-risk, no-reward proposition," suggests Sierra Club in a recent report. This especially does not make sense in the context of declining demand for oil.

If conditions are applied by Dane County, Enbridge may sue or may also seek to override local zoning control via state legislation, just as the state's frack sand mining industry has done. This raises the question, "Does the public have the right to be protected, or is corporate power going to run roughshod over the public?" asks Anderson.

Anderson says it's important for the community to be present at Tuesday's committee meeting: "Having people there even though they cannot speak, to show their deep concern and to show their support for the committee to act is very, very important."

The Dane County Board's Zoning and Land Regulation committee meets on Tuesday, January 27th, at 7pm at Madison's City-County Building, Room 354. 350 Madison expects Line 61 to come up on the agenda around 8pm.

News Wed, 28 Jan 2015 09:24:16 -0500
Native Leaders Are Being Killed in the Amazon Because They Want the Right to Live

Imagine a United States that was still at war with its native tribes. Imagine that the Indian reservations that dot the American landscape had no respected boundaries and that Apaches were encamped in eastern Arizona, Mohawks inhabited the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Lakota still hunted on the Great Plains.

Now imagine that all these tribes want is land of their own and to be treated like human beings, and instead of honoring that desire, American companies level Arizona, strip mine the Green Mountains and burn the Great Plains. In the process, the native peoples of these lands are systematically ignored, brutalized and then murdered in ways that are as horrific in their details as they are for their regularity.

In South America, no imagination is required. This is happening right now.

Ambrósio Vilhalva was a Guarani leader who spent decades campaigning against the planting of sugar cane on his tribe’s former lands. Vilhalva starred in the award-winning film Birdwatchers and traveled the world to speak about the Brazilian government’s failure to protect native Guarani land. In December 2013, after months of death threats, Vilhalva was found dead in his hut from multiple stab wounds. 

Marinalva Manoel was also a leading figure in the Guarani Indian repatriation movement. In November 2014, she was found dead on the side of a highway after being raped and stabbed to death.

Edwin Chota was an activist leader of Peru’s Ashaninka people who for years fought against illegal logging in the Amazon, going so far as to confront armed loggers with a machete in his hand. In September 2014, Chota and three other Ashinanka men were ambushed somewhere on the Brazilian-Peruvian border and gunned down with shotguns.

José Isidro Tendetza Antún was the former vice-president of the Shuar Federation of Zamora, a native Ecuadorian tribe. An outspoken critic of Amazonian deforestation, Tendetza was scheduled to speak at the UN Climate Summit in Lima, Peru. After disappearing on November 28, Tendetza’s body was unearthed from an unmarked grave, his limbs bound with blue rope and his bones broken from torture.

These are but four high-profile deaths in a struggle that has lasted for decades. Indigenous lives are regularly lost in the fight for land rights against clear-cutting businesses and ranchers with deep pockets. Most frightening of all, South American governments seem largely incapable – or at worst, unwilling – to stop these brutal murders.

Natives Are Denied a Seat at the Democratic Table

This past December, delegates from 190 countries congregated in Lima, Peru to set guidelines for reducing carbon emissions and adapting to global climate change. Despite making a place for its own indigenous tribes at the summit, Peru failed to legitimately address the problems of those who are the “frontline witnesses of climate change,” as Juan Carlos Riveros, Conservation Director of World Wildlife Peru, told Planet Experts.

Peru’s native tribes represent a whole segment of the population that lacks full access to the democratic system, said Riveros, largely due to their lack of legal land.

Diana Ríos, the daughter of Jorge Ríos, one of the men killed with Edwin Chota in September, was present at the Lima summit. She, like many native South Americans, was there for one, essential reason. As she explained to Planet Experts’ Mythili Sampathkumar, “I want my land…that’s where I live and eat, and it’s where my saintly grandparents lie.”

Today, even land that native people own is not safe from degradation. Chota’s Ashinanka people live in a region that is estimated to contain 80 percent of the illegal logging in Peru. Meanwhile, between June 2014 and the COP20 conference in Lima, no less than five separate oil spills occurred in the Peruvian Amazon, the first dumping an estimated 84,000 gallons of crude into the jungle.

Such spills could become common in Peru as, despite a pledge to generate 60 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025, the country has opened up 75 percent of its rainforest to oil companies. Deforestation, agriculture and other types of land use currently make up 61 percent of the country’s carbon emissions.

For native Ecuadorians, just gaining a seat at the democratic table has proven a challenge. On their way to the Lima conference in December, Ecuadorian activists were stopped no less than six times before their bus was finally confiscated by police.

Defending Indigenous Rights Against Apathy and Big Business

Andrew Miller is the Washington, D.C. Advocacy Director for Amazon Watch, an organization that works directly with indigenous communities in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru to fortify the long-term ownership and defense of their lands.

In an interview with Planet Experts, Miller explained that the struggle for indigenous rights, as recognized in international treaties and declarations, “frequently runs counter to the economic development plans of governments, regardless of political orientation.” This struggle is not limited to the Amazon, he acknowledged, but also around the world.

“Natural resource extraction within indigenous territories is a central focus of both right-leaning and left-leaning governments around the [Amazon],” he said. This makes any attempt to articulate grassroots concerns or highlight indigenous voices an awkward experience at even the high-minded COP20 talks.

Regarding the frequency of murders among indigenous leaders that occurred in late 2014, Miller lamented that it is “outrageous but not surprising.”

“The degree to which they are defending their communities and peoples, indigenous (and other grassroots) leaders find themselves in direct conflict with powerful economic and political interests,” he said. “If you don’t go for the carrot (often involving selling out for pennies), prepare for the stick. Global Witness has issued several excellent reports on the phenomenon. Brazil, Peru, and Colombia are amongst the most deadly countries for environmental and land rights defenders.”

The most horrific aspect of these murders is the apparent apathy with which they are received by South American governments. The actual murderers are rarely caught and the individuals behind the murders are never implicated.

“Political violence against indigenous peoples is carried out with virtual impunity,” said Miller. “Occasionally, the actual gunmen might be identified and arrested. But the intellectual authors – the people behind the violence – are effectively protected. The regional context is one in which legitimate social protest is increasingly criminalized. The degree to which protest is effective, organizers can expect to face spurious legal charges and spend years in court, if not eventually in jail. Peru’s Bagua trial is emblematic of this trend. Fifty-four indigenous and other grassroots leaders are being tried, while no official responsible for the June 5, 2009 confrontation is facing similar charges.”

The likelihood of indigenous disenfranchisement can increase as a country becomes more prosperous. Recently, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff appointed Senator Katiá Abreu as the country’s next minister of agriculture, a controversial choice given Abreu’s ambitious plans for Brazil’s agricultural industry. That industry is now 23 percent of the country’s economy, and Abreu wants to see it grow to rival the United States’. Her advocacy for clear-cutting forests to make room for farmland has led Greenpeace to dub Senator Abreu “Miss Deforestation.”

Abreu’s relationship with Brazil’s indigenous population is contentious, to put it mildly. In 2013, she told a Sao Paulo newspaper that FUNAI, the government agency that oversees indigenous rights, is undemocratic because it gives disproportionate weight to indigenous matters. Brazil’s tribes, she said, are entitled to 12 percent of the country’s territory but only compose one percent of the population.

“Katia Abreu is not opposed to concentration of land ownership in the hands of a small number of people,” said Miller, “she’s just opposed to those people being indigenous.”

According to Miller, the growth of Brazilian agribusiness and the expansion of large estates for soy, sugar and cattle has resulted in an increasing concentration of land ownership. “That process is frustrated by the ongoing existence of indigenous territories, explaining the agribusiness lobby’s desire to transfer titling powers from the executive to the legislative in which they exercise an outsized influence.”

Meanwhile, in pulling stewardship away from native peoples – whose relationship with the land has always been harmonious – agribusiness is essentially aiming to shoot itself in the foot.

“The viability of the ecosystem as a whole depends on the rainforest,” said Miller. “Terrifyingly, we face the possibility of what’s called the ‘die-back’ scenario, in which the Amazon tips into inexorable decline. Perhaps too late, the agribusiness interests are going to realize they can’t survive with greatly decreased rainfall that would result from an Amazonian collapse.”

Experts believe that Amazonian deforestation has cost Brazil its “flying rivers,” water vapor that is transported via air currents to other parts of the region. Without the flying rivers, Brazil’s capital, Sao Paulo, is now suffering its worst drought in 84 years.

Looking to the Future: The Amazon in 2015

The goals of the Amazon’s indigenous tribes are as varied as the tribes themselves, but some elements are universal. According to Miller, they include “autonomous self-government, the integrity of their ancestral territory, bi-lingual education [and] health care based on their traditional knowledge.”

As to how the relationship amongst developers, governments and natives may evolve – or degrade – in 2015, Miller said the recent decrease in world oil prices will likely play a role.

“Ecuador has accumulated billions of dollars in debts to China,” said Miller, “to be repaid in oil. This could significantly increase pressure for oil drilling, given the amount of oil they now have to send China’s way to repay the $13 billion is greater. In other contexts, the lower price might provide less economic impetus to develop new oil fields, lowering potential tensions.

“Peru is launching 26 new oil concessions in the Amazon over the course of 2015, in addition to renewing existing fields that are extremely contentious. This won’t necessarily lead to overt violence, though increased social tensions are likely as communities demand land titles, remediation of past pollution and consultation around the new blocks.

“Overall, I’d say there are many potential flash points across the Amazon and we’re certainly not expecting 2015 to be significantly less conflictive than recent years.”

In the meantime, what can North Americans do to help the cause? Miller says that Americans should look at their own consumption. Oil, hardwoods, cattle, gold, all of these are drivers of deforestation in the Amazon and grounds for rights violations. Awareness is also key, said Miller. “[W]e should understand how US-based corporations like Chevron are culpable for Amazon and join the battle for accountability.”

Opposing free trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership can also influence actions in the Amazon and tip the balance away from investor and corporate rights and back into the hands of local communities.

Finally, Americans can support the work of Amazon Watch and others that are advocating for indigenous rights.

News Wed, 28 Jan 2015 09:13:25 -0500
Can Bolivia Chart a Sustainable Path Away From Capitalism?

Vigorous and almost constant demonstrations are a feature of Bolivian life, as Bolivians continue to struggle against poverty, environmental destruction, and for Buen Vivir. May Day demonstrations in Cochabamba, 2014. (Photo: Chris Williams)Vigorous and almost constant demonstrations are a feature of Bolivian life, as Bolivians continue to struggle against poverty, environmental destruction, and for Buen Vivir. May Day demonstrations in Cochabamba, 2014. (Photo: Chris Williams)

While the achievements of Evo Morales' government in Bolivia are significant, so are the processes by which change has been enacted, and the trajectory of government attitudes and behavior with respect to the social movements and labor unions that made his government possible.

Vigorous and almost constant demonstrations are a feature of Bolivian life, as Bolivians continue to struggle against poverty, environmental destruction, and for Buen Vivir. May Day demonstrations in Cochabamba, 2014. (Photo: Chris Williams)Vigorous and almost constant demonstrations are a feature of Bolivian life, as Bolivians continue to struggle against poverty, environmental destruction, and for Buen Vivir. May Day demonstrations in Cochabamba, 2014. (Photo: Chris Williams)

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As through so much of its history, the small Andean nation of Bolivia sits at the center of a whirlwind of political, social and climatological questions. Arguably, no other country thus far in the 21st century raises the question of an "exit strategy" from neoliberal capitalism more concretely, and with greater possibility and hope, than Bolivia. That hope is expressed specifically in the ruling party, MAS, or Movement Toward Socialism. The country's leader, former coca farmer and union organizer Evo Morales - South America's first indigenous leader since pre-colonial times - was overwhelmingly elected to his third term of office in 2014. Morales has broadly popularized the Quechua term pachamama, which denotes a full commitment to ecological sustainability, and public hopes remain high that he'll guide the country toward realizing that principle.

Bolivia has seen impressive and consistent economic growth since Morales' first election victory in 2006, including the establishment of government programs to alleviate poverty and attain the social equity goals promised in his campaign. However, this growth has primarily rested on an expanded and intensified exploitation of the country's natural resources, principally from fossil fuel production, mining, and the growth of large-scale, mono-crop agriculture and manufacturing.

This economic growth has also created what the Bolivian non-governmental organization CEDLA (Centro de Estudios Para el Desarrollo Laboral y Agrario) calls the rise of a new bourgeoisie comprised of Santa Cruz agriculture producers, traders from the west of the country and small mining producers. The Bolivian government also believes that a new class is emerging, and will become Bolivia's new dominant group. Carlos Arce, researcher from CEDLA, says in an article in the Bolivian press:

A new type of entrepreneur has emerged from the popular classes. These emerging strata are mostly traders and are also present in the cooperative sectors, especially in mining. This new type of entrepreneur saves more and has a more austere mentality, in the classical Weberian sense. Within the state, representatives of this strata interface with middle-class intellectuals and other sectors of society, seeking to build alliances with small urban and rural producers that respond to the prerogatives of the market.

The so-called "plural economy" institutionalized by the government recognizes the state, communitarian, private and cooperative forms of economic organization. It also puts the state in direct control of the plans for economic development. In other words, the Bolivian people are the owners of the natural resources, but it is the state that administers and industrializes these natural resources.

In Arce's view, the government exalts this new "emerging bourgeoisie." The government's program of a plural economy "facilitates the alliance of these market-driven sectors with key sectors of international capital. This opens the door to transnational corporations and makes permanent their presence."

In December 2014, the Financial Times reported on the rise of a new indigenous bourgeoisie in El Alto, less constrained by older cultural ties of thrift, and striving for greater wealth, more ostentatious luxury buildings and opulent traditional clothing.

Bolivia offers a case study on the impact of climate change, people's resistance to exploitation and racist oppression, and the potential for genuine change from below.

On the other hand, while many journalists and analysts have focused on the accomplishments of the Morales' government, few have looked at the state of the labor force, unions and labor conditions. Research by local organizations shows that finding secure employment has become very difficult. According to the Bolivian Labor Ministry's own data just 30 percent of the labor force in Bolivia has a secure and formal job, with almost 70 percent working in the informal sector. These workers have no employment security, which makes people more dependent on welfare protections and programs that have become more elaborate and extensive in recent years.

Bolivia's geography is very diverse: The verdant and tropical Amazonian lowlands give way to the austere beauty of the highlands and snow-capped peaks of the Andes that ring the capital, La Paz. Bolivian elevations range from 130 to 6,000 meters above sea level dividing the country into three distinct geographical areas: the high plateau, the Andean valleys and the eastern lowlands.

Given all of these factors, Bolivia offers a case study on the impact of climate change, people's resistance to exploitation and racist oppression, and the potential for genuine change from below.

Much of that resistance was formed in response to centuries of relentless extraction of the country's minerals, semi-precious and precious metals, and guano. Following the privatization of Bolivia's public airline, train system and electric utility, in 1999, the government sold the water and sanitation system of Cochabamba to a transnational consortium. Over the following five months, mass demonstrations and violent confrontations with the police and military forced the government to cancel the contract and keep the water supply in public hands. This popular struggle for public control of water became recognized worldwide as the Cochabamba Water War.

The highly visible haze of air pollution from cars and industry in the bowl of Cochabamba has been compared unfavorably to air pollution in China. (Photo: Chris Williams)The highly visible haze of air pollution from cars and industry in the bowl of Cochabamba has been compared unfavorably to air pollution in China. (Photo: Chris Williams)

The number of conflicts over natural resource extraction and refining, road building and pipeline construction, and forest and water use have all steadily grown under Morales.

According to Oscar Olivera, a former union leader and one of the main organizers of the water wars, the successful reversal of privatization of the city's water through an organizational and political alliance of urban workers, campesinos and environmentalists follows a 500-year-old tradition. "There is a history of permanent resistance of the whole people of Bolivia, especially the indigenous people," Olivera said. Today, "the fight is not against the Spanish conquerors, but against the international corporations that are taking our water, land and air."

More contemporarily, since 2006, the number of conflicts over natural resource extraction and refining, road building and pipeline construction, and forest and water use have all steadily grown under Morales. As a 2013 University of Gothenburg study points out:

There is an increasing gap between, on the one hand, the radical but often very vague provisions for communitarian and proactive environmental management in the new Constitution and the Law of Mother Earth, and, on the other hand, the heavy investments made by the Bolivian state in natural resource extraction and infrastructure development at very high environmental costs. It seems likely that the type of clashes between social movements and the government as the one around TIPNIS [Indigenous Territory Isiboro Secure National Park] will continue to grow unless this gap is narrowed.

Marco Gandarillas Gonzáles, the Cochabamba director of the information and documentation organization Centro de Documentación e Información Bolivia (CEDIB), concurs. "It's an historical intensity of extraction," Gonzáles told Truthout. "Never has mining been as intensive as it is now. Not even during Spanish rule. In the last 10 years, we have exported more silver than in 300 years as a Spanish colony."

Exports of gold are now 8,000 kilograms per year, which means a record use of mercury (15,000 tons per year), cyanide and other toxic substances to separate gold from its ore.

In an interview with Jeffrey Webber in 2014, chief of the cabinet of the Bolivian Ministry of Economics and Public Finance Maria Nela Prada Tejada was straightforward in acknowledging that the MAS project was to "take advantage of the possibility of growth through the exploitation of natural resources, with the state capturing the surplus and redistributing it to social programs and to other economic sectors that generate employment."

Ruthless extraction of Bolivia's bountiful natural resources has concentrated the natural and social wealth of the country in a small group at the top of society, and exposed Bolivians to an extreme degree of imperial intrigue and attempted subjugation.

Bolivia has significant natural resource wealth, sustainable management of which is, perhaps, Morales' largest challenge. The country was once home to the Spanish crown's richest silver and gold mine, at Potosí, and one of the world's most lucrative tin mines. Now, 500 years later, Bolivia still contains two of the largest active silver mines in the world, at San Cristóbal and San Bartolomé. In Potosí, one mountain alone annually releases into the surrounding waterways an estimated 161 tons of zinc, 157 tons of iron, more than two tons of arsenic and scores of other toxic minerals, such as cadmium and lead. Bolivia became a landlocked country when it lost land to Chile in the 1800s, in a war fomented and orchestrated by Britain, in order to secure access to guano: an essential ingredient needed to replenish the fading fertility of British soils, prior to the invention of the Haber-Bosch process for the manufacture of nitrogenous fertilizer.

In the east, at Mutún, lies one of the largest future iron ore mines, which first India and now China are financing for development. Half the world's reserves of lithium (not currently exploited) sit high up in the otherworldly, surreal salt deposits of Salar de Uyuni. After Venezuela, Bolivia has the largest gas reserves in South America.

At 3,700m the other-wordly salt desert of Salar de Iyuni glistens in the high altitude sun. Here, with minimal road, rail or air connections, is where the lithium deposits that Evo Morales wants to develop are located. (Photo: Chris Williams)At 3,700m the other-wordly salt desert of Salar de Iyuni glistens in the high altitude sun. Here, with minimal road, rail or air connections, is where the lithium deposits that Evo Morales wants to develop are located. (Photo: Chris Williams)

Coveted by foreign and domestic elites over the generations, ruthless extraction of Bolivia's bountiful natural resources has concentrated the natural and social wealth of the country in a small group at the top of society, and exposed Bolivians to an extreme degree of imperial intrigue and attempted subjugation.

First at the hands of Spain, then Britain, and more recently the United States and World Bank-inspired structural adjustment programs, Bolivians have been rewarded with a succession of dictatorships, extreme concentration of land ownership (despite redistribution after the 1952 revolution and some land reform under Morales, which is stuck today), poverty and extensive environmental contamination of their air, soil and water. The historical and ongoing cost of environmental degradation is estimated to account for more than 6 percent of Bolivian GDP. All of this has laid the groundwork for the growth of massive social, labor and indigenous unrest and the rise of the social movements at the turn of the 21st century, on the back of which Morales was elected and re-elected to power.

Yet now, another threat has emerged of particular concern to a country that bears little responsibility for causing it: anthropogenic climate change. From a climate perspective, even if average global warming is kept to 2 degrees Celsius (and we are currently on track for 4), regions in the middle of continents, such as Bolivia, will warm appreciably more than coastal regions. Furthermore, based on data from the Alps and Rocky Mountains, there will be more warming at higher altitudes: between 1.5 and two times greater warming than at lower elevations.

Farms around Laja, framed by the glaciers of the high Andes. (Photo: Chris Williams)Farms around Laja, framed by the glaciers of the high Andes. (Photo: Chris Williams)

In stark contrast to monoculture farming, several hundred different varieties of potato are grown in the Bolivian Andes, as a resilient subsistence food by 200,000 small-scale farmers.

With 12 distinct ecological regions, Bolivia is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. The changes in elevation, along with vastly different rainfall patterns from alternate sides of the Andes, create micro-climates that have aided the evolution of a large number of species indigenous to Bolivia. In addition, the agricultural practices of Bolivian farmers have supported a diverse array of plant varieties. For example, in stark contrast to monoculture farming, several hundred different varieties of potato are grown in the Bolivian Andes, as a resilient subsistence food by 200,000 small-scale farmers.

2015 0128bolivia 01bRigoberto Rios Miranda, farmer and community leader from Laja, on the altiplano above El Alto. (Photo: Chris Williams - click to expand)This is all threatened by a warming climate. Because more humidity accompanies warmer air, more extreme water-related events, such as the 2014 flooding of the low-lying savanna in the department of Beni, are likely to occur with increasing frequency. Meanwhile, as some areas become wetter, the altiplano (the high plains between the Andes mountains) will become even drier. People in high elevation areas such as the cities of El Alto and La Paz will become more dependent on melting snowpack from glaciers and mountain lakes, even as these water sources gradually diminish: Bolivia is losing all its glaciers below 5,400 meters. Flooding will be followed by drought.

The contradictions of the Morales years are encapsulated by community leader Rigoberto Rios Miranda, a farmer and local council leader from Chacaquinta, a community near the village of Laja, in the high plains above El Alto. Rios Miranda - who remembers a childhood in the 1950s when indigenous people were not allowed in the main square in La Paz, a time before the city of El Alto (now home to 1 million people) existed - is unequivocal in his praise for "the only president in my lifetime who has changed my life." While he tells the story of how El Alto fought the military of deposed former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada "with slingshots, stones and sticks," he also notes that he no longer knows how his community can grow food - potatoes, wheat and quinoa - because "it now rains at all different times, and it's drier for longer. This place did not used to be as hot as it is now. It's becoming like Cochabamba."

He no longer knows how his community can grow food because "it now rains at all different times, and it's drier for longer. This place did not used to be as hot as it is now."

Rios Miranda is categorical in his conviction that "under Evo, everything is different," including his ability as an indigenous person to have a say in politics and be accepted in the new plurinational state because Morales has focused so much on changing the constitution to provide more government funds, projects and jobs for ordinary Bolivians. One thing that has not changed during the almost 10 years of Morales' rule, however, is the state of the Pallina River, which runs through Rios Miranda's farmland. Where Rios Miranda used to catch frogs and fish as a young man is visibly polluted, and he must keep his animals from drinking from it. The single water treatment plant in El Alto, which was never designed for the kind of industrial effluent that flows unchecked from the tanneries, factories and clandestine slaughterhouses, is completely inadequate. And so the poisoned, alternately bright green, orange and red foaming water that flows through Rios Miranda's land eventually reaches Lake Titicaca, where, according to Iván Marcelo Castillo, a worker for the Bolivian Environmental Defense Fund, who hails from a village between La Paz and Lake Titicaca, it's responsible for contaminating 35 communities.

Visibly contaminated, untreated pollution from El Alto factories and slaughterhouses makes its way to Lake Titicaca via the River Pallina (Photo: Chris Williams)Visibly contaminated, untreated pollution from El Alto factories and slaughterhouses makes its way to Lake Titicaca via the River Pallina (Photo: Chris Williams)

Of the river, Rios Miranda said, "We believe even our grandchildren will drink contaminated water." A round trip by donkey to Laja for water takes two hours, but he now has a government-provided standpipe, which the community shares, and has hopes for electricity and gas soon. Where he once had a bull and plough, there is now a tractor to rent by the hour for the community, and milk to sell in El Alto. Meanwhile, large numbers of people in Cochabamba continue to lack potable water, basic sewage treatment is almost entirely absent, and the Rio Rocha that flows through the city is as contaminated and polluted as the Pallina River.

In an example of how interconnected ecosystems are with climate, higher average temperatures will lead to an increase in evaporation, causing soils to dry out. In turn, drier soils will increase erosion and loss of topsoil, an effect that will be compounded by two other effects of a warmer climate. More rain, falling more intensely, in shorter time periods, will exacerbate soil erosion, as will higher wind speeds caused by extra energy held in the atmosphere. These effects in turn will increase the likelihood of wildfires on forest land, though rapid deforestation for the expansion of agribusiness, primarily soya, is occurring in many lowland areas of Bolivia.

Higher average temperatures will lead to an increase in evaporation, causing soils to dry out. In turn, drier soils will increase erosion and loss of topsoil, an effect that will be compounded by two other effects of a warmer climate.

One might think that the ability to grow crops higher up the sides of mountains that don't freeze as often could be a positive change. However, Bolivian farmers have long known how to minimize risk due to rainfall variability and temperature gradients, by farming in different ways at different altitudes. The altiplano has traditionally been suited to the grazing of llama and alpaca only; somewhat lower, there's terraced agriculture based on cold and drought-resistant crops such as quinoa (which also has a high tolerance to higher frequency solar radiation); while lower down still, some crops such as maize are able to grow. But this stable, interconnected and resilient form of integrated farming practices is threatened by warmer temperatures, as agriculture has been moving up mountainsides: 200 meters over the last 30 years. Hence, as grazing becomes more restricted and difficult, conflicts are emerging between herders and farmers.

Furthermore, the pre-Incan altiplano staple food, chuño, made from freeze-dried potatoes that remain edible for several years, is threatened because nighttime temperatures are not falling below freezing for long enough or with the same regularity. Without land redistribution, smaller and smaller plots of land, which dominate the highlands, force peasant farmers to over exploit their lands, intensifying soil degradation and erosion. Systematic and significant land reform would almost certainly reignite the fight between MAS and the right-wing, racist landholders in and around Santa Cruz, where the largest landholdings are concentrated.

For a relatively small country of 10 million people to harbor the hopes and dreams of tens of millions of people who want to see a different world is no small feat. Nor is it one to be casually dismissed because it might not currently resemble what we imagine a process of deep social change would look like. The indigenous concept of buen vivir, or vivir bien, enshrined in the new constitutions of both Bolivia and Ecuador, is usually translated as "good living" or "living well," but that's a very inaccurate translation, according to Uruguayan scholar Eduardo Gudynas. Gudynas says: "These are not equivalents at all. With buen vivir, the subject of wellbeing is not [about the] individual, but the individual in the social context of their community and in a unique environmental situation."

A coca farmer from the Chapare region in one of her coca fields, discussing how much has changed for the better under Evo Morales. The ending of the US-sponsored drug war has radically reduced violence and the legalization and regulation of the coca trade allows her to farm her land without fear. (Photo: Chris Williams)A coca farmer from the Chapare region in one of her coca fields, discussing how much has changed for the better under Evo Morales. The ending of the US-sponsored drug war has radically reduced violence and the legalization and regulation of the coca trade allows her to farm her land without fear. (Photo: Chris Williams)

In other words, the term derives from a collective identity that considers nature a subject of history intertwined with human history. To paraphrase Marx, human history is natural history, and vice versa. As Gudynas argues, vivir bien "is equally influenced by Western critiques [of capitalism] over the last 30 years, especially from the field of feminist thought and environmentalism . . . It certainly doesn't require a return to some sort of indigenous, pre-Colombian past."

The social movements, political parties and activists who brought Morales to power continually question the environmental sustainability for which Morales is seen as a standard bearer of optimism and rhetorical opposition to capitalism's anti-ecological heart by those outside the country. Outside of Bolivia, many on the left uncritically absorb Morales' oratorical opposition to capitalism's ecologically destructive and socially divisive modus operandi. However, the social movements, political parties and activists who created the conditions for him to come to power, continue to question his actual commitment to environmental sustainability and social justice.

For all of Morales' rhetorical championing of "buen vivir," Gudynas believes that the MAS government instead operates more along the lines of a new form of Keynesian neoliberalism, or what he calls "neo-extractivismo."

For example, in contrast with this international image, Morales announced in early 2014 that Bolivia had ambitions to build a nuclear power plant, stating, "Bolivia cannot remain excluded from this technology, which belongs to all humankind." He seems to disregard that a giant, centralized nuclear power plant, with all the dangers and expense that would entail, is hardly the answer to the energy needs of Bolivia, let alone respectful of the rights of Mother Earth. One only need ask the still suffering people of Fukushima for the most recent evidence of that.

In another example, Bolivian feminists and activists are asking, with so much concern expressed for the rights of Mother Earth, where is the concern for the rights of actual women and mothers?

Women are routinely degraded in both the language of government officials and their policies. Morales and other elected officials continuously make sexist statements that have inspired the women's sectors to organize protests and mobilizations against these statements and actions.

During the 2011 conflict with indigenous communities created by the government building a highway through the autonomous Indigenous Territory Isiboro Secure National Park (TIPNIS), Morales appealed to the cocaleros who live near that territory to make the indigenous woman there fall in love with them and discourage their opposition to the highway. Morales said, "If I had time, I would make them fall in love with me and convince them. So, young men, you have instructions from the president to conquer the Trinitarian Yuracarés colleagues so they will not oppose the construction of the road."

With the legalization of coca farming, the leaf has many uses. This modern factory can turn the leaf into a range of coca-containing products. (Photo: Chris Williams)With the legalization of coca farming, the leaf has many uses. This modern factory can turn the leaf into a range of coca-containing products. (Photo: Chris Williams)

Alfredo Viscarra's imprisonment is a stain on the government of Bolivia and represents a direct attack on the self-organization of workers and trade union rights.

These comments reflect the dominant attitude toward women from the current administration. The Morales government, appearing to honor public opinion on this matter, recently enacted a law criminalizing the serious problem in Bolivia of political violence against women and has put more government funding toward child care. However, it remains illegal to have an abortion in Bolivia, depriving women of their right to reproductive choice, and several clear cases of violence against women perpetrated by MAS party members or government officials have been ignored. In addition, little has been done to develop legislation favorable to the LGBT community. As women's oppression is a bedrock foundational requirement for the successful operation of capitalism, a basic expectation of any government or leader claiming to represent a move away from capitalism, and toward socialism and respect for pachamama, must address these issues.

For all of Morales' rhetorical championing of buen vivir, Gudynas believes that the MAS government instead operates more along the lines of a new form of Keynesian neoliberalism, or what he calls "neo-extractivismo," whereby a percentage of increased revenue from extraction is used by the state to help alleviate poverty - while increasing the power of the state:

The state seeks to capture a bigger share of the rents derived, and to use it to fund social programmes and redistributive policies. This helps legitimize extractivismo and silence its critics, with those opposing it portrayed as working against the national interest.

Extractivismo comes to be seen as the fundamental driver of growth, providing the resources to combat poverty. This growth model conflicts with other notions of development, such as those associated with 'buen vivir' or 'vivir bien' in countries like Ecuador and Bolivia.

Morales' government has tried to solve the contradictions inherent in property ownership of public goods such as oil, gas, water and electricity through a state-led process that some have called nationalization, but which, in fact, is more a favorable renegotiation of contracts with the oil and gas companies already operating in the country and the statalization of other sources. Which is to say, that the state is intruding into new areas of the economy and life of Bolivians in a more vigorous manner, which is a larger feature of the Morales regime than any extensive nationalization of significant sectors of the economy.

In May 2014, Truthout spoke with Alfredo Viscarra, the former union leader at ELFEC, Empresa de Luz y Fuerza Eléctrica Cochabamba, the electricity company in Cochabamba for 35 years. After ELFEC was forcibly "nationalized" by the Morales administration, Alfredo said:

We never thought that the government was going to statalize the electricity company because the phone cooperative and the electricity workers were its owners. On May Day they took away our company through a decree. We, the workers, nationalized the company. In just one night, they occupied the company with soldiers like during the worst dictatorship and they kicked us out of there.

Afredo Viscarra, former president of Cochabamba electricity workers union, ELFEC. Under house arrest by the Morales government for two and a half years. There is a vigorous union-backed campaign to get him freed. (Photo: Chris Williams)Afredo Viscarra, former president of Cochabamba electricity workers union, ELFEC. Under house arrest by the Morales government for two and a half years. There is a vigorous union-backed campaign to get him freed. (Photo: Chris Williams)

The electricity company in Cochabamba was privatized in the 1990s. The US company that owned it, PPL Corp, a US utility based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which had many concessions across Latin America, decided to leave. Once the company put its assets on the market, the workers, who had already bought 5 percent of the shares in the company in 1995, decided to buy another 35 percent. So, at this point, 300 workers had purchased a total of 40 percent of the company using their severance benefits. The rest of the company (60 percent) was acquired in 1998 by the phone cooperative Comteco, the local phone company that today has more than 200,000 members in the region.

After it came to power, the Morales government declared its intention to nationalize the so-called "strategically important" companies and, in 2010, it continued prior nationalizations of oil and gas when it nationalized ELFEC. The government appointed three arbitrators to oversee the process. These arbitrators declared that the existing worker and cooperative ownership was acquired illegally. As the elected workers' representative and president of ELFEC, Viscarra refused to hand over control of the utility unless the workforce was compensated for its original severance-payment outlay and ownership. Although he has been placed under house arrest for the last two and a half years, and threatened with imprisonment, Viscarra has held firm to his convictions that although he agrees the Bolivian government has the right to nationalize the company, it must compensate the workers who are running it and are part owners.

Despite a change in official rhetoric, and some welcome redistribution of wealth, Morales' policies are practically the same as his predecessors' with respect to natural resource extraction.

Nationalization implies that the state takes over, with or without compensation, privately run corporations so as to run them as services for the people, rather than for-profit businesses, thus diverting cash from private investors toward the government treasury and social programs to address inequity in society and for the common good. Nationalization in Bolivia, however, is more complex than this definition implies. While the Bolivian government has taken controlling stakes in the oil and gas sector, not a single foreign fossil fuel corporation has left Bolivia. While the Morales government is taking a larger percentage of royalties from Bolivia's abundant gas fields, the increases in commodity prices and gas production for export have more than compensated the private corporations. Hence, though the Bolivian treasury is much healthier, fossil fuel corporations operating in Bolivia are making about as much money now as they were before "nationalization," as Morales has in practice maintained an investor-friendly climate. Indeed, the small worker and management-owned electricity company ELFEC is much more worthy of the term "nationalization" (without compensation to the workers), than the giant fossil fuel corporations.

Viscarra has been unable to leave his apartment for two and half years - even to visit his family - and is presently in a judicial limbo. He remains under house arrest, without definitive evidence against him, but with no idea whether he will be freed, put on trial or gain knowledge of what his future holds.

Public Sectors International and several unions in Bolivia have mobilized in support of Viscarra, starting a defense campaign and writing letters to the government of Bolivia demanding that he be released immediately. His imprisonment is a stain on the government of Bolivia and represents a direct attack on the self-organization of workers and trade union rights.

When a country with a left-wing president elected through an outpouring of popular outrage and self-mobilization receives fulsome praise for its economic policies from the neoliberal bastion of the World Bank - and imprisons a workers' leader, to boot - it is fair to assume that not all is playing out according to the hopes of the popular movement.

However, our skepticism must dig deeper than an argument about whether the debate over "extractivismo" is necessary given the history, and economic and social power of a deeply impoverished, small Latin American country, or whether the Morales government has done all it can to reduce poverty, inequality and racism. That's because Morales doesn't have complete freedom to act. There are real constraints in the shape of international capital, class consciousness in Bolivia, the strength of the domestic right wing, and the economically and technologically impoverished state of the country. When Lenin and the Bolsheviks instituted war communism during the civil war, and later the New Economic Policy, they were hardly in line with Marxist theory, but policies were in many ways pushed on the Soviet government by the parlous state of the economy and the devastation of the civil war. An honest assessment is, therefore, not simply a balance sheet of pros and cons totted up on a spreadsheet of left versus right.

"We have lost an opportunity for something based on our self-organization and self-management."

At the same time, several sectors and former allies of Morales maintain an independent position critical of the government, emphasizing that, despite a change in official rhetoric, and some welcome redistribution of wealth, Morales' policies are practically the same as his predecessors' with respect to natural resource extraction. That extraction continues to be the foundation for the country's financial stability, and it comes with attacks on grassroots self-organization when that organizing contradicts Bolivian state policy.

A deeper analysis of the evolution of the Morales government requires examining the evolving social dynamics within the country, and whether the government is concentrating power in the hands of the state, or, conversely, trusting the people who brought it to power. A true economic shift would require placing the power to make economic and political decisions more frequently and obviously in the people's hands, even as particular policies may be inadequate in the immediate sense and subject to practical and political limits.

With so much natural gas being extracted in Bolivia, there is more than enough to satisfy domestic demand and increase exports to Brazil and elsewhere. As it's so cheap, most taxis and many cars have been converted to run on natural gas. (Photo: Chris Williams)With so much natural gas being extracted in Bolivia, there is more than enough to satisfy domestic demand and increase exports to Brazil and elsewhere. As it's so cheap, most taxis and many cars have been converted to run on natural gas. (Photo: Chris Williams - click to expand)Additionally, a real move toward socialism would require definitively shifting away from the capitalist pathway of intensified human and planetary exploitation and showing the world that a different road out of poverty and inequality is possible. This would mean not just redistributing some of the wealth gained from exports of natural gas, mining and industry, but fundamentally reordering the country's social and political priorities.

There is too much at stake not to pose the question: Is this what people imagining a different world are fighting for? Perhaps not as an end result, but does the Bolivian model headed by Morales offer a template for a step along the path toward more comprehensive and fundamental social change? Or will only a resumption of social unrest at a higher and more sustained level be required before MAS actually prioritizes the goals it advertises? Or, further, will wholly new political formations and parties be required?

The role of the state in Bolivia - and, really, everywhere - looms large for those of us fighting for a different world, as Mike Geddes wrote in 2010:

In the period since 2000 Bolivia has successfully overthrown a neoliberal regime and begun to build new institutions and policies, especially a re-founded state that is less alienated from the mass of the population than the neoliberal capitalist state. Clearly this is still a project under construction, but it raises the wider issue, important far beyond Bolivia, as to whether and how the capitalist state can be reshaped as part of the building of that 'other world' which is so necessary. What would such a state look like? How would it function? The new Bolivian constitution, alongside radical initiatives elsewhere in Latin America, from the Zapatistas' alternative local state structures in Chiapas, Mexico, to the Venezuelan communal councils, may help to take such questions forward.

In light of more recent developments, from the increasing eruption of new protests in Bolivia to the Ecuadorian government's backtracking on previous commitments to environmental sustainability under Rafael Correa, Geddes' assessment of a re-founded state seems overly optimistic.

Raquel Gutierrez wrote in 2011 that people had other hopes when electing Morales and MAS to government:

The electoral victory gave Morales and his administration the right to govern. However, for many people, the massive electoral support for Evo and his political party MAS signified, above all, the possibility of expanding and consolidating communitarian-popular power. In Bolivia, especially between 2006 and 2008, people expressed that they wanted to take charge of public affairs according to other logics - much more direct, horizontal and on smaller scales - that would allow communities, and by connection, the nation, to reappropriate the common wealth that had been stolen by multinationals and their domestic allies.

As the anarchist writer Carlos Crespo, a professor at the Center for Superior Studies at the Universidad Mayor de San Simón and a strong critic of Morales and a state-implemented road to change, told Truthout, "We have lost an opportunity for something based on our self-organization and self-management. There are a lot of examples of self-management in the country, with the campesinos and with the water committees. The water committees [or] irrigators are complete self-management. All these things can be used [as examples of ways in which] to reorganize society."

However, localized self-management, without broader coordination, is entirely inadequate for an effectively functioning, equitable and ecological society. Therefore, it also seems necessary to establish some form of broader organization, coordinated across different sectors and localities: a bottom-up, centralized, democratically elected body that can plan and coordinate the reconstruction of society. This body would function, essentially, as a state controlled by the people.

Even if we limit the conversation to a fully functioning city of 1 million, such as Cochabamba, where water, sanitation, electricity, health care, education and food are equally accessible to all, while minimizing waste, it would require considerable coordination between all sectors of society, including those living in the surrounding countryside, where the food and water would come from. In line with that view, as Marco Gandarillas Gonzáles of CEDIB said:

There is a problem with the current Bolivian economic model. Because we export the minerals and we import the tools to get them. That we need to consider these two things so that we can have a mining policy that is relevant. We are not industrializing and using the minerals that we are digging out of the ground. We have to keep the reserves and keep some of them underground. And there needs to be multilateral talks with other countries, like Congo and Colombia, so that we can make planned arrangements for what is needed - coltan etc.

In other words, this project even goes beyond a people-centered, state body: The process needs to be international.

Will the Morales government continue down its developmentalist, neo-extractivist pathway? Or can Bolivians create their own government, responsive to the needs of the people? As labor leader Oscar Olivera remarked in an interview this year, "We thought that having Evo Morales in government would change things. And many things have changed. But we know now that not enough has changed. The people do not decide; the government decides. Despite the constitution guaranteeing rights for indigenous people and Mother Earth, those policies are not implemented; they are just words."

Oscar Olivera, former executive secretary of the Federation of Factory Workers in Cochabamba, leader of La Coordinadora de Defensa del Agua y la Vida, coalition of workers, environmentalists, artisans, peasants, market vendors and neighborhood and worker organizations which played a significant role in the successful movement against water privatization in 2000.  (Photo: Chris Williams)Oscar Olivera, former executive secretary of the Federation of Factory Workers in Cochabamba, leader of La Coordinadora de Defensa del Agua y la Vida, coalition of workers, environmentalists, artisans, peasants, market vendors and neighborhood and worker organizations which played a significant role in the successful movement against water privatization in 2000. (Photo: Chris Williams)

Olivera emphasizes that the struggle against the privatization of water in Cochabamba was not, at root, about water. Rather, it was about the political question of "who decides." For Olivera, "that's why the struggle transcended Bolivia and had international resonance."

Just because the state apparatus that now controls Bolivia's water (and so many other priorities) has mass support for its social programs doesn't diminish the need for organization by the people in their own interests. It does, however, require a new type of struggle. "This is much more difficult than [organizing] against Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada or a military or neoliberal government," Olivera said. "Evo is not like Sánchez de Lozada; he is a brother and a friend, for his other achievements. So, it is much more difficult to organize the people." Nevertheless, because the struggle over control of the water supply remains intimately connected to the political struggle, it is "therefore, about the survival of humanity."

"The people do not decide; the government decides. Despite the constitution guaranteeing rights for indigenous people and Mother Earth, those policies are not implemented; they are just words."

These are all important lessons for the success of future struggles: As more and more people all over the world are seeing the need for "system change," we need to know what is required to achieve it. In that sense, Bolivia offers us the most concrete and useful lessons yet about what might work and what we must be wary of. According to Olivera, the people won in Cochabamba because of two things: an all-encompassing cosmo-vision based on indigenous values of reciprocity and solidarity, and organization and coordination at every level. That is to say, what was present was a dramatically different vision for a radically reordered world that went far beyond reforming current institutions, allied with the kind of broad and deep working-class self-organization required to bring about that vision.

Therefore, not only should we aspire to a profoundly reorganized and different world - one that is based on cooperation, not competition; and real democracy and production for need, not profit - but we should also build strong, democratic and transparent organizations so that the voices of the people are represented at every level of decision-making.

This brings us to how those of us outside Bolivia yearning for fundamental, revolutionary social change can support Bolivians struggling for this vision. The arguments made by Lenin and Trotsky in the early 1920s - that the young Soviet Union could not possibly survive without aid from a similarly revolutionary, but more advanced country such as Germany, and would degenerate quickly without outside help - offer an approximate analogy to the situation in Bolivia. The best form of solidarity we can show to Bolivians still struggling for buen vivir is to forge a more powerful movement of resistance to our own leaders, in the United States and elsewhere. We must also seek to emulate Bolivia's example by pursuing freedom from capitalism and the freedom to decide our own future, collectively and democratically, sometimes through mass uprisings against our governments.

"We cannot put our hopes for a better future in the hands of the government," Olivera said, summing up the lessons of Bolivia's water wars. "What the people want and need for their future and how to achieve it must be decided and managed by the people. It comes from below and outside; it should not be the province of those who sit at the top of and inside the government apparatus. Like water, this life-sustaining process must be transparent and in motion."

News Wed, 28 Jan 2015 10:04:17 -0500
The Deficits Republicans Don't Want to Talk About

2015.1.27.DailyTake.mainOne of the fastest ways to create jobs is to address our nation's infrastructure deficit. (Image: via Shutterstock)Want to challenge injustice and make real change happen? That's Truthout's goal - support our work with a donation today!

I agree with Republicans - the United States has a deficit problem.

It's just not the same deficit problem Republicans are freaking out about.

Shortly after sweeping the November midterms, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, outlining their plans for the upcoming Congress.

In that op-ed, they wrote that Republicans would work to address, "a national debt that has Americans stealing from their children and grandchildren, robbing them of benefits that they will never see and leaving them with burdens that will be nearly impossible to repay."

As usual, Boehner and McConnell were sounding the alarms over our nation's federal deficit, something Republicans like to do a near-daily basis.

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

But, what they didn't say in that op-ed is that our federal deficit has actually improved A LOT in recent years.

Our federal deficit has been slashed by more than two-thirds since President Obama took office, and deficits over the next decade are going to be around $4.7 trillion lower than what the Congress Budget Office estimated just four years ago.

Instead of focusing on a federal deficit that's at its lowest point in years, Republicans should instead be focusing on the United States' real deficit problem.

In a new report titled, "We Must Rebuild the Disappearing Middle Class," Sen. Bernie Sanders talks about the other deficits we are facing as a nation, and how we can go about addressing them.

Those deficits are in jobs, infrastructure, income, equality, retirement security, education and trade.

Right now, millions of Americans are unemployed or underemployed. As Sen. Sanders points out in his report, the real unemployment rate, which counts those underemployed and those who have given up looking for work, sits at a staggering 11.2 percent.

This is not a problem that we can just ignore.

Instead, Sen. Sanders is arguing that we take a page out of FDR's playbook, and create a new federal jobs program, which would put millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans to work in well-paying jobs.

One of the fastest ways to create those jobs is by addressing our nation's infrastructure deficit.

As we speak, our bridges are falling down, our roads are buckling and our transportation systems are a joke compared to the rest of the developed world.

As a result, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the US a dismal D+ rating on overall infrastructure.

Ever since Reagan came to Washington and blew up federal funding for infrastructure projects, our country hasn't been the same. It's literally been crumbling to the ground.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have neglected our nation's physical infrastructure for too long, and it's time for a change.

By investing $1 trillion in infrastructure spending over the next five years, as Sen. Sanders suggests in his report, we could help create over 13 million well-paying jobs AND bring the US out of the 19th century and into the 21st century.

Meanwhile, while we're addressing the United States' infrastructure deficit, we must do something about the income and equality deficits plaguing our country.

It's absolutely insane that in the richest country in the world millions and millions of people are struggling to survive and put food on the table.

As the Sanders report points out, "We must raise the minimum wage to a livable wage. In the year 2015, no one in America who works full time should be living in poverty."

But raising the minimum wage alone isn't enough to level the playing field and combat our nation's wealth inequality epidemic.

Right now, the top 1% of Americans control nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, while 400 Americans own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans combined.

That's inexcusable.

Heck, even Ronald Reagan thought it was crazy.

Speaking about the United States' tax loopholes during a speech in 1985, Reagan said that, "in practice they sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying ten percent of his salary, and that's crazy. Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver or less?"

And, of course, the audience answered, "More!"

It's time to make the wealthy elite and giant transnational corporations pay their fair share to support our economy.

While it's important to make sure that all Americans have an equal shot at success, it's also important to ensure that all Americans can retire comfortably.

As Sen. Sanders points out, "Today, only one out of five workers in America has a traditional defined benefit that guarantees income in retirement. Nearly half of all Americans have less than $10,000 in savings."

Fortunately, there's a pretty easy fix for the United States' retirement deficit: expand Social Security.

Instead of focusing on cuts to it, our lawmakers need to be talking about how to expand this vital lifeline for millions of Americans.

Next, we need to address our nation's education deficit, which is keeping us so far behind much of the developed world.

Right now, there's over $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt in the US.

That's because college has become so expensive that getting a degree also means taking on mountains of student loan debt.

And those mountains of student loan debt are also hurting our nation's economic recovery. It's a lose-lose situation.

We need to make to be making it easier to get a college degree in the US, not harder.

Finally, we need to tackle the United States' ballooning trade deficit and out-of-whack trade policies.

Last year, our trade deficit stood at $493 billion.

Meanwhile, years of so-called "free trade" deals have exported millions of good-paying US jobs overseas.

We need to rework our trade policy, and stop signing on to so-called "free trade" deals that export jobs and screw over working-class Americans.

So, when Republicans whine about the US having a deficit problem, they're right. We do have a deficit problem.

BUT, it's not our federal deficit that's the problem.

Instead, it's the deficit in our spending on infrastructure, on education and on job creation that's really keeping our country down.

As Sen. Sanders writes, "While we must continue to focus on the federal deficit, we must also be aware that there are other deficits in our society that have been causing horrendous pain for the vast majority of the American people."

It's time to stop that pain, and start making the United States great again.

Opinion Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:54:12 -0500