Truthout Stories Tue, 01 Sep 2015 10:10:02 -0400 en-gb US-Made Cluster Munitions Causing Civilian Deaths in Yemen

New research released on August 27 by a leading human rights watchdog has found evidence of seven attacks involving cluster munitions in Yemen's northwestern Hajja governorate.

Carried out between late April and mid-July 2015, the attacks are believed to have killed at least 13 people, including three children, and wounded 22 others, according to an August 26 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The rights group believes the rockets were launched from Saudi Arabia, which has been leading a coalition of nine Arab countries in a military offensive against armed Houthi rebels from northern Yemen who ousted President Abu Mansur Hadi earlier this year.

Banned by a 2008 international convention, cluster munitions are bombs or rockets that explode in the air before dispersing many smaller explosives, or 'bomblets', over a wide area.

"Weapons used in these particular attacks were U.S.-made M26 rockets, each of which contain 644 sub-munitions and that means that any civilian in the impact area is likely to be killed or injured," Ole Solvang, a senior researcher at HRW, said in a video statement released August 27.

According to HRW, a volley of six rockets can release over 3,800 submunitions over an area with a one-kilometer radius. M26 rockets use M77 submunitions, which have a 23-percent 'failure rate' as per U.S. military trials – this means unexploded bombs remain spread over wide areas, endangering civilians, and especially children.

Local villages told HRW researchers that at least three people were killed when they attempted to handle unexploded submunitions.

The attack sites lie within the Haradh and Hayran districts of the Hajja governorate, currently under control of Houthi rebels, and include the villages of Al Qufl, Malus, Al Faqq and Haradh town – all located between four and 19 km from the Saudi-Yemeni border.

Given the attacks' proximity to the border, and the fact that Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – all members of the Arab Coalition – possess M26 rockets and their launchers, HRW believes the cluster munitions were "most likely" launched from Saudi Arabia.

One of the victims was 18-year-old Khaled Matir Hadi Hayash, who suffered a fatal injury to his neck on the morning of July 14 while his family were taking their livestock out to graze in a field just four miles from the Saudi border.

Hayash's brother and three cousins also suffered injuries, and the family lost 30 sheep and all their cows in the attack.

In the village of Malus, residents provided HRW with the names of at least seven locals, including three children, who were killed in a June 7 attack.

A 30-year-old shopkeeper in Malus described the cluster bombing as follows:

"I saw a bomb exploding in the air and pouring out many smaller bombs. Then an explosion threw me on the floor. I lost consciousness and somebody transferred me to the hospital with burns and wounds on the heels of the feet and fragmentation wounds on the left side of my body."

A thirteen-year-old caught in the same attack succumbed to his injuries in a local hospital. The boy is now buried in the neighbouring Hayran District.

"I didn't even take [his body] back home," the father of the deceased teenager told HRW. "Residents of the village all fled. You can't find anyone there now."

These seven attacks are not the first time that banned weapons have made in appearance in the embattled nation of 26 million people.

"Human Rights Watch has previously identified three other types of cluster munitions used in attacks apparently by coalition forces in Yemen in 2015: US-made CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons, rockets or projectiles containing "ZP-39" DPICM submunitions, and CBU-87 cluster bombs containing BLU-97 submunitions," the report stated.

Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United States all remain non-signatories to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which currently counts 94 states among its parties.

A further 23 countries have signed but not ratified the treaty.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

News Tue, 01 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
More Than 270 Refugees Dead in One Day; Why Is the US Doing Nothing?

It has been an especially grim time for refugees fleeing unrest and terror in the Middle East and Africa, and seeking to enter Europe.

On Thursday August 27, Austrian police examined a large van that had been left in a motorway pull-out about 15 miles from Vienna, and close to the border with Hungary. They were alerted by a police motorway patrol officer, who had seen fluids leaking out the back door. When they opened it up, they found the decomposing bodies of what they estimated to be between 20 and 50 people.

The next day, it was revealed that there were in fact a horrific 71 bodies: 59 men, eight women and four children were crammed into a small space. It's believed they had been dead for nearly two days.

Police have said the bodies appeared to be those of Syrian migrants after they found a Syrian travel document. These Syrians must have been facing truly horrific situations to allow themselves to be packed into this small space and driven away, in total darkness. Four people have been arrested in the case: three Bulgarians and one Afghan.

At the same time, more than 2000 miles away, refugees were being pulled out of the sea off the coast of Libya, after a boat sank, likely killing around 200 people. The boat was probably carrying around 400 people, but about half of them were unable to escape because they were locked in the ship's hold when it capsized.

300,000 Refugees So Far in 2015

By the end of July this year, almost 300,000 refugees had fled their homelands, mostly Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and African countries, in the hope of escaping violence and making a new life in Europe. This compares to a total of 217,000 for the entire year of 2014, according to the Washington Post. Another 2,373 or more refugees have died in their bid to reach Europe. 

I use the term "refugee" deliberately. As David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, explained on the PBS NewsHour

"A refugee, defined by the international conventions established after the Second World War, is someone who is fleeing a persecution. They have a - quote, unquote - "well-founded" fear of persecution.

A migrant is someone who is seeking a better life basically for economic reasons. And I think it's very important to continue to uphold the distinction between the two. The asylum-seeker that you refer to is really a refugee who is applying for asylum in a country in which they land."

According to US News, "The U.N. refugee agency says it boils down to whether the person is being pushed or pulled: A migrant is someone who seeks better living conditions in another country; a refugee is someone who flees persecution, conflict or war."

A Global Crisis

There are many heartwarming stories of individual citizens in Europe, especially Greeks and Germans, working hard to find ways to help these refugees.

But it's clear that more action needs to be taken at a national and international level. Ironically, as the tragedies of August 27 were being uncovered, a summit focusing on the how to deal with the refugee crisis was being held in the Austrian capital, Vienna.

At that meeting, Austria's Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz expressed his belief that the external borders of the European Union (EU) must be strengthened, while the countries of Serbia and Macedonia, which are not members of the EU, demanded that the EU must come up with a clear action plan.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed: "They're facing huge challenges and as they are future members of the European Union it is our duty to help them with these challenges."

Hopefully, something positive will come out of these meetings, but what about the UK and the US?

Why Are the UK and the US Refusing to Help?

As The Guardian reports, David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, seemed especially callous as he spoke of the refugees:

"attempts to enter his country had increased because 'you have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, it's got a growing economy, it's an incredible place to live'."

Let's remember that there are around 3000 asylum seekers waiting in Calais, hoping to make it to England, as compared to the 300,000 that have entered Europe so far this year.

As for the US, many of the refugees are escaping from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, countries in whose wars the US has been deeply involved. Yet there has been no recognition of this fact, no acknowledgment that this is a global crisis, one in which the US should play its part.

It is horrific that people are suffocating and drowning in their quest to reach safety. The UK and the US need to step up.

News Tue, 01 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
When the Default Is to Classify Everything

Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, at an event in Nashua, N.H., in July. (Photo: Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for the New York Times)Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, at an event in Nashua, New Hampshire, in July. (Photo: Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for the New York Times)

The Hillary Clinton email "scandal" continues - and there is still no sign that she broke any rules when she was secretary of state, and no sign that she sent or received anything labeled "classified" - but she may have received and even forwarded items that were later classified, or that "should" have been classified.

By normal human standards, this is a big nothing. But in this case Clinton Rules - under which malign behavior is the default assumption - apply: Where there's smoke there must be fire, even if everyone knows that the usual suspects are using big smoke machines.

But Jeffrey Toobin at The New Yorker recently added a further twist: To the extent that some things may have been classified after the fact, it's a very good guess that they shouldn't have been - because the government classifies everything.

I know a bit about this from firsthand, if very old, experience. I was the senior international economist at the Council of Economic Advisers from 1982 to 1983. (Yes, Ronald Reagan was president, but it was a technocratic post. The senior domestic economist was a guy named Lawrence Summers. Whatever happened to him?) In that post, I received a lot of reports labeled "SECRET NOFORN NOCONTRACT PROPIN ORCON" (or no foreign nationals, no contractors, proprietary information, origin controlled). I can't remember a single document so labeled that included information that was remotely sensitive - or for that matter, that contained stuff that you couldn't read in The New York Times or The Washington Post.

And pretty soon I got very casual about the whole thing. We had a security officer who would come through our offices at night, and if he found classified material left out he would grab it, put it in the safe and issue a demerit. Luckily, the council chairman got even more black marks than I did.

Of course, I wasn't working in an area of genuine security concern. But that's kind of the point.

Carter, Reagan and Machiavelli

Rex Nutting, an editor at MarketWatch, wrote a very nice article recently about the reality of Jimmy Carter's presidency, which has been distorted beyond all recognition by the myth of St. Reagan. As Mr. Nutting points out, Mr. Carter presided over faster average job growth and lower unemployment than did President Reagan; unfortunately for Mr. Carter, the timing was bad. He had vigorous growth for most of his presidency, but a recession at the end.

Or to be more specific: The Federal Reserve put the economy through the wringer from 1979 to 1982 in order to bring inflation down. Mr. Carter presided over the first part of that double-dip recession, and got wrongly blamed for it. Mr. Reagan presided over the second part, and wrongly got credit for the subsequent recovery.

What you see in all this is the remarkable political dominance of recent rates of change over even medium-term comparisons. Real median family income, which rose significantly throughout 1979, was still far from having returned to that peak by the end of Mr. Reagan's first term. Nonetheless, Mr. Carter was booted from office amid derision, while Mr. Reagan won a landslide as a triumphant economic savior.

But Machiavelli knew all about this: "Hence it is to be remarked that, in seizing a state, the usurper ought to examine closely into all those injuries which it is necessary for him to inflict, and to do them all at one stroke so as not to have to repeat them daily," he wrote in "The Prince."

Make sure that the bad stuff happens early in your rule so that you can claim credit when things get better, even if you leave the nation in a worse condition than it was when you arrived.

Opinion Tue, 01 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
After the Frack: Bright Lights in the Middle of Nowhere

The humming sound was deafening. Standing in the driveway of the Brothers' home it was 50 decibels, but as we walked toward the edge of the road, the sound meter jumped to 85 decibels. The creator of this offensively loud humming noise was the compressor station located just across the road. It ran night and day, 24/7, and had invaded Frank and Theresa Brothers' home just a year ago. Unfortunately, compressor stations are a necessary component of an oil and gas pipeline system. They help move gas and liquids from one part of the pipeline system to another.

The noise from compressors, which run 24/7 at fracking operations, can be deafeningly loud. (Photo: Lana Straub)The noise from compressors, which run 24/7 at fracking operations, can be deafeningly loud. (Photo: Lana Straub)

The Brothers' land has been in their family for generations. When they built their new home prior to the oil boom in Carroll County, Ohio, they had no idea that their new neighbor would be so loud that the sound would knock the photos off of their walls in the middle of the night. The compressor station sits about 350 feet from their home and even though the noise is deafening, with only three years into their mortgage, they can't afford to move.

"A lot of people have told us that we are fools to pay for our house cause it isn't worth nothing now," said Frank. "It's worth as much as someone is willing to give you for it," chimed in Theresa. "The oil company offered us 65 percent of the appraised value to move," said Frank. He said that equals just about what he owes on his mortgage.

Noise pollution is only one of the many types of pollution that people living around oil and gas exploration areas have to deal with. And even after the fracking vehicles move on, remnants like compressor stations remain as constant reminders that the landscape around them has changed forever. Light and air pollution also often linger around along with the noise long after the oil and gas wells have been sucked dry.

Humans aren't the only ones affected by this. Long before drilling rigs, fracking trucks, and compressor stations enter neighborhoods, the wildlife in the area already begins to feel the impact of preliminary exploration work. If the animals' habitats haven't already been fragmented by the oil and gas exploration activity, their homes are certainly changed once the drilling operations start in earnest.

Scientists have already established that shale development operations cause light, noise, and air pollution, but not much is known about the specific biological impacts of these operations.

In a 2014 report that appeared in Frontiers in Ecology and Environment, a team of ecologists and biologists examined thousands of studies to determine knowledge gaps in estimating ecological threats to plants and wildlife in shale development regions. The researchers found that "surprisingly little research has focused on the biotic impacts of shale development."

What little research is around, they noted, "generally lack clear mechanistic links to fuel extraction and are limited to a small number of species, countries, and ecoregions." Moreover, the researchers wrote, "shale development differs from other forms of fossil-fuel extraction in multiple ways, including a broad and diffuse geographic footprint and an extremely high water demand. Therefore, many of the biotic impacts of shale development are unique and cannot be inferred from knowledge of other forms of oil and natural gas extraction."

The key to bringing the environmental effects to the forefront of our minds is to think of them as how they apply to our everyday lives, says Morgan Tingley, a conservation biologist and coauthor of the report. "We should think about the health of our agricultural fields, our wildlife, and our pets - what kind of long-term effects is hydraulic fracturing having on the food we eat and the air we breathe?"

The effects of light, noise, and air pollution were on the researchers' list of the impacts least studied with respect to shale development. However, they did find a few studies that had looked into these issues. In 2010, a study published in the Trends of Ecological Evolution found that animals experience "substantial changes in foraging and anti-predator behavior, reproductive success, density and community structure in response to noise." A 2011 study published in Ecology Letters found that anthropogenic noise, including that caused by oil and gas development activities, can affect the neuroendocrine system, reproductive system, cardiovascular system, as well as the metabolism of animals exposed to noise for excessive periods of time.

It isn't unheard of for someone to think they see a wildfire burning in the night sky only to discover that it's the glow from a flare. The effect is often referred to as a permanent full moon and its impact on wildlife can be life changing. (Photo: Lana Straub) It isn't unheard of for someone to think they see a wildfire burning in the night sky only to discover that it's the glow from a flare. The effect is often referred to as a permanent full moon and its impact on wildlife can be life changing. (Photo: Lana Straub)

Several offenders can cause air pollution from oilfield activity. Oilfield trucks carrying water and sand sometimes line up 50 trucks deep during a fracking job. These trucks might idle for hours waiting their turn to dump their cargo at the well site. Oftentimes, once the well construction is completed at a new site, flares are placed at the well head to dispel the excess gases that have nowhere to go since the pipeline infrastructure is yet to be being built. These sites also tend to emit fugitive emissions that escape despite elaborate systems to keep them from the atmosphere.

The US Environmental Protection Agency as well as many state oil and gas agencies, such as the ones in Texas and Ohio, decided in the early stages of the oil boom that the lack of infrastructure necessitated the practice of flaring as part of doing business. They allow oil and gas companies to obtain air permits that allow them to legally release gases into the air as long as they keep within the permitted levels. In some states like South Dakota, even though the flaring is illegal, contactors burn up the gases anyway because there is no infrastructure in place to capture the excess gas. They see it as protecting their investment because if the gas isn't flared, it could cause irreparable damage to the wellhead and the shale formation. However, recent changes in EPA regulations are aimed at curbing flaring and reducing emissions by at least 10 percent.

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences have been studying the gases, especially methane and volatile organic compounds like nitrogen oxides, that escape into the air above oil and gas production areas in the US in recent months. Their study, SONGNEX 2015: Shale Oil and Natural Gas Nexus examined emissions in these areas from March to May 2015. According to their whitepaper: "An early study demonstrated the enhanced concentrations of hydrocarbons in an oil and gas production region in Texas and Oklahoma, [and} a recent analysis for the Marcellus region suggested an enhancement in nitrogen oxides."

Light pollution has always been a threat to wildlife. However, as oil and gas development wanders into the wilderness areas, so does the need to light it up. Light pollution often is considered an after-effect of the 24/7 work cycle in the oilfield. If workers and equipment are in the field they must have lighted worksites to maintain safety. Apart from electric lights, flaring also produces extreme light pollution. It isn't unheard of for someone to think they see a wildfire burning in the night sky only to discover that it's a furiously burning flare. The effect is often referred to as a permanent full moon and its impact on wildlife can be life changing. The International Dark-Sky Association is working to show oil and gas companies how to mitigate some of the damage caused by light pollution. For instance, Pioneer Energy Corporation recently teamed up with McDonald Observatory to help alleviate oil field light pollution in the West Texas skies. By upgrading their lighting systems, using shields and LEDs, Pioneer was able to reduce their light emissions and still maintain rig and personnel safety.

As fracking operations expand across the country, there must be conversations to find better ways to combat its environmental impacts. The key to mitigating air, noise, and light pollution is to pinpoint the problem and address it, as Pioneer Energy did to keep the skies dark over Texas. The long-term environmental and health impacts of fracking operations are far reaching and we should be thinking about long-term solutions to mitigate them.

But for people like Frank and Theresa Brothers whose property has already been invaded by oil and gas activity, such solutions may come too late. "The amazing thing about it is how far away from it you can get and still hear it. You can get way back in the woods, 1,500 feet away and all you can hear is the compressor running," says Frank Brothers.

News Tue, 01 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
More Evidence of Roundup's Link to Kidney, Liver Damage

(Photo: Crop Duster via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)Given even very low levels of exposure, Roundup can potentially result in organ damage when it comes to liver and kidney function. (Photo: Crop Duster via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)

Long-term exposure to tiny amounts of Roundup - thousands of times lower than what is permitted in US drinking water - may lead to serious problems in the liver and kidneys, according to a new study.

The study looked at the function of genes in these organs and bolsters a controversial 2012 study that found rats exposed to small amounts of the herbicide Roundup in their drinking water had liver and kidney damage. 

It is the first to examine the impacts of chronic, low exposure of Roundup on genes in livers and kidneys and suggests another potential health impact for people and animals from the widely used weed killer.

"Given even very low levels of exposure, Roundup can potentially result in organ damage when it comes to liver and kidney function," said senior author Michael Antoniou, head of the Gene Expression and Therapy Group at King's College London.

"The severity we don't know, but our data say there will be harm given enough time," he said.

It's the latest health concern for the most widely used herbicide in the United States. Evidence has been mounting that Roundup's main ingredient, glyphosate, is toxic. In recent years, scientists have increasingly suspected it might be at least partially behind a widespread kidney disease epidemic in Sri Lanka and parts of India and Central America. 

Meanwhile, use of the herbicide has skyrocketed, increasing more than 250 times over the past four decades in the US, according to estimates.

Glyphosate has increasingly made headlines as the debate on genetically modified foods ramps up because many seeds from Monsanto, Roundup's manufacturer, are genetically engineered to withstand the herbicide.

Both health researchers and environmental groups have called on governments to either ban or more strictly regulate glyphosate, especially after the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer in March determined glyphosate is probably cancer-causing in humans.

In the 2012 study, different groups of rats were fed mixtures of genetically modified corn and Roundup. Researchers, led by Gilles-Éric Séralini, a professor of molecular biology at the University of Caen in France, reported cancers and other health impacts from both the corn itself and the herbicide.

But the experiment design and results were highly controversial; the paper was retracted and eventually republished last year.

Among other findings, the original experiment showed that very tiny amounts of Roundup added to rats' water - a dose that is thousands of times lower than what is allowed in US drinking water - for two years seemed to spur kidney and liver damage.

In the current study, Antoniou and colleagues compared the female mice from the 2012 group and found big differences in their genes compared to rats that were not fed Roundup.

"There were more than 4,000 genes in the liver and kidneys whose levels of expression had changed" in the dosed rats compared to the non-dosed rats, Antoniou said. Genes serve as the body's switches, controlling different functions. Turn one gene off at the wrong time, or fail to turn it on at the proper time, and serious consequences could happen. Different patterns of gene function are known to underlie the health and disease status of organs.

Given that they "used very low dose levels in drinking water, as a country that uses a lot of glyphosate and it's found widely across US streams, this study should have some kind of public health influence," said Nichelle Harriott, science and regulatory director at Beyond Pesticides, a Washington DC-based nonprofit organization that advocates against toxic pesticides.

While the number of genes was high, the actual changes in levels of expression between the dosed and non-dosed group were pretty small. "We don't know what to make of such changes, they may be meaningful and may not," said Bruce Blumberg, a professor and researcher at the University of California who was not involved in the study.

Antoniou and colleagues can't pin the specific organ problems to glyphosate. The changes they saw in the genes are linked to the types of organ damage originally seen in the rats - such as scarring and dead tissue.

"They can't say which caused what, but what you have is an association - the group treated with a little Roundup had a lot of organ damage and the gene expression findings supported that," Blumberg said.

Monsanto did not return requests to comment on Antoniou's study. The company has repeatedly maintained Roundup's safety and attacked the science behind the WHO's decision to label glyphosate a probable carcinogen. 

The findings, while in rats, are concerning for people. These tests are the kind used to test what chemicals may do to humans, Antoniou said, which is concerning given glyphosate's widespread use.

"Normally when you see negative effects in these rats from a chemical treatment, then you get very worried," he said. "And normally you would consider whether to approve the use of the chemical or not."

News Tue, 01 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Economic Update: Market Chaos Hits Us All

This episode provides updates on Banksy's Dismaland theme park, Amazon undercutting pensions and recent market chaos. We also give an in-depth analysis on oil market collapse and address rich universities' abuse of tax exemptions.

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

To listen in live on Saturdays at noon, visit WBAI's Live Stream

Economic Update is in partnership with

Your radio station needs Economic Update! If you are a radio station, check this out. If you want to hear Economic Update on your favorite local station, send them this.

Visit Professor Wolff's social movement project,

Permission to reprint Professor Wolff's writing and videos is granted on an individual basis. Please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it."> to request permission. We reserve the right to refuse or rescind permission at any time.

News Mon, 31 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
As Journalists Are Jailed for Three Years in Egypt, Will US Stop "Cozying Up" to Regime?

In Egypt, Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste were sentenced over the weekend to three years in jail for "spreading false news" that purportedly harmed Egypt following the 2013 military coup. Fahmy and Mohamed were taken into custody on Saturday. Greste remains free in Australia. The three had already spent more than a year in prison before being released on bail earlier this year. We speak with Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous in Cairo and with Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "The US should stop cozying up to General - now President - Sisi," Roth says. "He is presiding over the worst crackdown in modern Egypt history."


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

AMY GOODMAN: We head to Cairo, Egypt, where Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste were sentenced over the weekend to three years in jail for, quote, "spreading false news" that harmed Egypt following the 2013 military coup. That's what they were convicted of. Fahmy's wife, Marwa Omara, broke down in tears as the sentence was announced on Saturday.

MARWA OMARA: It was extremely unjust and was extremely unfair. And what happened with Mohamed shows how much this case is political. And it's so unfair what's happening to him. ... We got married, and I didn't even enjoy our marriage with him.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were taken back into custody. The third journalist, Peter Greste, spoke out against the ruling from Australia, where he was deported to.

PETER GRESTE: The fact is that we did nothing wrong, that there was no evidence of wrongdoing, that these guys are innocent men, and innocent men are in prison. That's what this is about. Never mind the sentences. One day in prison would be unjust.

AMY GOODMAN: Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who represents Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy, has called on President el-Sisi to pardon the men. The three were initially arrested as part of a crackdown on Al Jazeera following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, sentenced last June to between seven and 10 years in prison, a ruling condemned around the world. Peter Greste was released in February, deported home to Australia. Shortly afterwards, following more than 400 days behind bars, Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were also freed on bail. The case has been widely condemned. Fahmy and Mohamed were led away to begin their sentences after Saturday's verdict. Greste was tried in absentia.

To find out more, we go to Egypt, to Cairo, by Democracy Now! video stream to be joined by Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous.

Sharif, can you talk about the response right now in Egypt and the significance of these sentences?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, it's a really stunning verdict. Many people were expecting that the journalists would be - receive some kind of sentence that would be time served or a suspended sentence, especially given that Egyptian officials had repeatedly signaled that they viewed the trial as a nuisance, that it brought unwanted scrutiny of the Egyptian government. Sisi himself has said several times in the past that he would have deported the journalists rather than try them, and he wished the case had never - the prosecution had never been brought.

And nevertheless, in a really heartbreaking and shocking scene, we saw the three journalists yesterday sentenced to three years in prison. They were hauled away to jail. The judge said in his verdict that they were not journalists because they lacked the necessary credentials. He said they were using unlicensed equipment and broadcasting false news that harmed Egypt's national security. This last accusation is especially shocking, given that during the trial the judge appointed a technical committee to look at the footage, and the head of that committee testified that none of the video evidence, the footage, had been fabricated. And nevertheless the judge included that in his ruling.

So, you know, this is the latest twist in this long ordeal that had began in December 2013 for these journalists, and we'll have to wait and see what will happen next. As you mentioned, Canada has put an official request for deportation for Mohamed Fahmy. They've also called for a presidential pardon from Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The president can - President Sisi can pardon them at any point. He does not have to wait until the end of the judicial proceedings. He's pardoned people in the past. And that's what - that would be the best-case scenario in this respect. Another one would be the deportation of Mohamed Fahmy, but that would leave Baher Mohamed behind bars. Baher Mohamed got an extra six months in prison and a 5,000-pound fine for possessing a single spent bullet casing.

And so, this was just the latest verdict in, you know, part of a broader crackdown that we've seen in Egypt against the press. The Committee to Protect Journalists recently did a survey, found that 18 or now over 20 journalists are behind bars. That's the highest number since the CPJ has been keeping records in 1990 for Egypt.



AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, I wanted to play the comment of Amal Clooney, Mohamed Fahmy's attorney, denouncing the verdict.

AMAL CLOONEY: I think today sends a very dangerous message in Egypt. It sends the message that journalists can be locked up for simply doing their job, for telling the truth and reporting the news. And it sends a dangerous message that there are judges in Egypt who will allow their courts to become instruments of political repression and propaganda.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Amal Clooney, Mohamed Fahmy's lawyer. We're also joined by Ken Roth. Is there anything the United States can do, considering how many billions of dollars it gives to Egypt?

KENNETH ROTH: Yes, the US should stop cozying up to General - now President - Sisi. He is presiding over the worst crackdown in modern Egypt history, much worse than anything that happened under Mubarak. As your colleague noted, there are 22 journalists in prison right now. There are 40,000 political prisoners. The US, nonetheless, is just opening the spigots for military aid. It's selling equipment. It's sending the message that we'll live with this dictator because he's pro-American, pro-Western. That is a disastrous message for the Egyptian people.

AMY GOODMAN: Should the US cut off aid?

KENNETH ROTH: Absolutely. It should never have resumed the aid. It resumed the aid because, ostensibly, Egypt is on a transition to democracy. But I think John Kerry is the only person in the world who sees that transition.

AMY GOODMAN: Ken Roth, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of Human Rights Watch. And, Sharif, thanks for joining us from Cairo, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! correspondent in Egypt.

News Mon, 31 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
As Obama Visits Arctic, Alaskans Urge Him to Reverse Shell Oil Deal

Weeks after approving Shell's plans to drill in Alaska, President Obama is heading to the state to warn about the dangers of climate change. "Alaska's glaciers are melting faster, too, threatening tourism and adding to rising seas," Obama said in his weekly address. A protest is scheduled today in Anchorage to urge Obama to reverse his decision on Shell and stop all exploratory drilling in the Arctic. We speak to Richard Steiner, an Alaskan marine conservation biologist, who is speaking at the "Our Climate, Our Future" rally.


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

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama arrives in Alaska today, where he's becoming the first sitting US president to visit Arctic Alaska. He talked about his trip during his weekly address.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'll have several opportunities to meet with everyday Alaskans about what's going on in their lives. I'll travel throughout the state, meet with Alaskans who live above the Arctic Circle, with Alaska Natives and with folks who earn their livelihoods through fishing and tourism. And I expect to learn a lot.

One thing I've learned so far is that a lot of these conversations begin with climate change. And that's because Alaskans are already living with its effects - more frequent and extensive wildfires; bigger storm surges as sea ice melts faster; some of the swiftest shoreline erosion in the world, in some places more than three feet a year. Alaska's glaciers are melting faster, too, threatening tourism and adding to rising seas. And if we do nothing, Alaskan temperatures are projected to rise between six and 12 degrees by the end of the century, changing all sorts of industries forever.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, President Obama will deliver a speech at the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience, or GLACIER, to address the crucial climate challenges in the Arctic. Obama's visit to the Arctic comes on the heels of his administration's decision to approve Shell's plans to begin oil extraction off the Alaskan coast this summer, despite protest from environmental groups.

Also, ahead of the trip, President Obama announced the name of North America's tallest mountain peak will be changed from Mount McKinley back to Denali, its traditional Alaska Native name. Ohio's congressional delegation had fought to defend the name McKinley, which honors former President William McKinley, who was from Ohio. But Alaska Natives have long viewed the name as imperialist.

Well, for more, we go to Anchorage, where we're joined by Rick Steiner via Democracy Now! video stream, a marine conservation biologist, former professor at the University of Alaska. Today, Dr. Steiner will speak at the "Our Climate, Our Future" rally convened by a coalition of Alaskan grassroots groups ahead of President Obama's speech. He's involved in the emergency response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and proposed the court settlement and major thrust of the restoration program for habitat protection. He has now started a petition called "Tell President Obama to designate Marine National Monuments in Alaska," which just surpassed 100,000 signers.

Rick Steiner, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what you'll be saying in your speech today and why you're protesting President Obama, who's the first sitting president to come to the Alaskan Arctic to address the issue of climate change.

RICK STEINER: Well, thanks, Amy. It's good to be back. And yeah, I think President Obama has been good on climate. He's probably been the best president in the history of the nation on climate change. But the problem is, he hasn't been good enough. The commitments that he has made are not enough to turn the tide on climate change. We're on a sinking boat, and it's like we're taking on two gallons of water - excuse me - every minute, and we're bailing one gallon. So, it's a recognition that they've made that there's a serious problem here, but it's not enough to fix the problem. This is an enormous threat in Alaska. We're living it daily. We're in crisis. And we need to have a response that's commensurate with the crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what Alaskan - what drilling off the Alaskan coast will mean - all of the environmentalists, the "kayaktivists," the people who hung from the bridges to try to prevent Shell from moving its rigs to Alaska to drill, to the Arctic.

RICK STEINER: Well, in a real sense, we think it's somewhat - it seems somewhat hypocritical to, on the one hand, say we're concerned about climate change, and the scientific community is very clear that we need to be leaving maybe two-thirds of the hydrocarbon reserves, the oil and gas and coal around the world, right where it is right now, in the ground and in the seabed, in order to be able to stabilize global climate in the future. The best place to start doing that, in our view, is this new frontier of the Arctic, in which there's something like 100 billion tons of carbon. Now, to the climate, it probably doesn't matter if the ton of carbon comes from the Middle East or the Gulf of Mexico or Africa or the Arctic, but the optics of this are very worrying. It shows us that if we're going to go ahead and drill for oil offshore in the Arctic Ocean, impose this industrialization and disturbance and this huge spill risk to this extraordinary ecosystem - it shows us that we may not be really serious enough, with enough resolve, to actually want to leave carbon in the ground and in the seabed, which is what we know we need to do. So it's worrisome to many people who are concerned about climate.

AMY GOODMAN: Rick Steiner, you ultimately resigned from the University of Alaska around your views and scholarship on environmental protection. Can you talk about what happened, and talk more broadly about the power of the oil industry?

RICK STEINER: Well, the oil industry is God in Alaska. That's the way it's viewed by many politicians. It's responsible - oil revenues run the state of Alaska budget. It constitutes something like 80 or 90 percent of Alaska's state revenues. It's a big deal in Alaska. And it has this political momentum around it. So all the institutions - the university is extraordinarily pro-oil, and so are the state agencies and even the federal agencies here. And I've seen that all over the world, where a large oil industry develops - in Africa, in the Middle East, in Southeast Asia - and has this peculiar political momentum.

In Alaska, the university did not want me seeking and teaching my truth publicly, that there were concerns and risks about offshore drilling in Alaska. And they didn't want me saying that. I argued that I had the - not just the right, but the responsibility, to seek and teach that truth. That was part of my - the work I was doing on behalf of the university. I complained about the risks of one particular offshore drilling project in Bristol Bay, and the university terminated my federal funding because of that. I argued with them, and then I ultimately said the heck with it, and I resigned on principle, that I was not going to pretend to work for an institution that pretended to honor academic freedom and, in the end, actually didn't. So I resigned. The problem is, is the university still - I mean, everybody else has this very clear message right now that thou shalt not criticize oil in Alaska, or else your position is at risk.

AMY GOODMAN: In the last minute we have together, we are leading up to the UN climate summit in Paris.


AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to happen?

RICK STEINER: Well, certainly, the US needs to double down on the commitments that President Obama has made so far. The US declared commitment is something like 28 to 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. That's good, but about half of what we need at Paris. The big deal, as well, is, the US agreement with China last year allows China to continue increasing their carbon emissions until 2030 - for the next 15 years. And conceivably, China could then double their carbon emissions by the time that this agreement requires them to cap their emissions and begin reducing it. When President Obama meets with President Xi Jinping next month in Washington, they should revisit that deal and get China to commit to earlier and more substantial greenhouse gas reductions. And that - you know, Paris is the make-or-break game. Either we get this strong, urgent, legally binding deal in Paris, or I think we're kind of sunk. So, Paris is a make-or-break deal.

AMY GOODMAN: Rick Steiner, I want to thank you for being with us, marine conservation biologist, former professor at University of Alaska. Today he will be speaking at the "Our Climate, Our Future" rally ahead of President Obama's speech. He's started a petition that has now more than 100,000 signatures, "Tell President Obama to designate Marine National Monuments in Alaska." This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report.

News Mon, 31 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Will Grassroots Movements Change the Political Discourse in Iowa?

Presidential elections are an opportunity for grassroots movements to punch above their weight - especially in states like Iowa. Social movements there and around the United States are pushing candidates to state their positions on policies that will promote racial, social and economic justice.

Minnesota-based immigrant rights group Asamblea de Derechos Civiles disrupts a soapbox speech by GOP presidential candidate and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal on August 22 at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. (Photo: Iowa Starting Line)Minnesota-based immigrant rights group Asamblea de Derechos Civiles disrupts a soapbox speech by GOP presidential candidate and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal on August 22 at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. (Photo: Iowa Starting Line)

The Iowa State Fair used to be campaign gold for presidential candidates, an event National Public Radio's "On Point" host Tom Ashbrook has called a "campaign launching pad," a picture perfect opportunity to meet thousands of likely caucus-goers, eat fried pork chops on a stick and bask in the glow of a national media spotlight brighter than buttered sweet corn shining in the summer sun.

But ever since 2011, when Mitt Romney was heckled by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement activists and made his "corporations are people, my friend" gaffe, a campaign appearance at the Iowa State Fair has brought as much risk as reward.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton understands this. She attended the Iowa State Fair on August 15 this year for photo ops and staged appearances but skipped the Des Moines Register's Soapbox stage altogether, likely fearing an unscripted moment that could knock her campaign off message.

"It's time for those running for office to answer the critical questions of our community."

Two days later, on August 17, Wisconsin governor and GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker found out the hard way the power that citizen activists have to turn campaign launch pads into bottle rocket duds. More than 50 home health-care workers were bused in from Madison and Milwaukee by SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin and disrupted an Iowa State Fair speech Walker gave in front of hundreds of everyday Iowans.

The unionized "Fight for $15" workers followed Walker around the fairgrounds for hours and photobombed his stops with dozens of bright yellow-and-black signs that read, "Warning: Don't let Scott Walker do to America what he did to Wisconsin." Walker's supporters fought back, but the ensuing spectacle only helped to generate even more media headlines.

Other activists also took advantage of the Iowa State Fair this year to draw attention to their issues. A faith-based immigrant rights group from Minnesota, Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, organized an Iowa Pilgrimage Ride from August 19 to 23 and marched, rallied and held vigils in major cities across Iowa. The group arrived in Des Moines on August 21 to protest outside a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, as well as at a "Rally for Religious Liberty" held by GOP candidate and Texas senator Ted Cruz.

The Minnesota immigrants also bird-dogged GOP candidates Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and New Jersey governor Chris Christie at the Iowa State Fair on August 22, the same day animal rights activists also confronted Christie. An "#AllowDebates" group with ties to some of Hillary Clinton's primary opponents publicly challenged the Democratic National Committee chair about the Democrats short public debate calendar on the second to last day of the fair as well.

"It's time for those running for office to answer the critical questions of our community," Pablo Tapia, an Asamblea de Derechos Civiles leader, told Truthout. "Every day we hear the stories of families torn apart, and the women and children who languish in prison while corporations profit off of our oppression. Now we are organized and there is no stopping us."

The Movement for Black Lives Pushes the US to the Left

Heckling politicians is as American as apple pie, and mic check-style tactics are nothing new to social movement organizing. Young immigrants with DREAM Iowa have been bird-dogging presidential candidates on the stump all summer, and Quakers with the American Friends Service Committee in both Iowa and New Hampshire have spent the last several months training everyday citizens to take effective action on the issues they care about.

"The people in power don't really want to concede to the radicals, but they end up being forced to concede some of the more moderate demands."

But bold actions attempting to claim and hold space, and actually shut down campaign events entirely, seem to be gaining widespread traction this year after leaders from the Black Lives Matter movement disrupted speaking engagements of the self-styled democratic socialist Bernie Sanders in Phoenix and Seattle. The progressive favorite was quickly forced to add racial justice to his platform and talk more openly about race on the stump. Similar actions soon followed targeting Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.

"African Americans have a strong history of spearheading resistance movements in this country," said Jessica Welburn, a Black Twitter activist and African American studies professor at the University of Iowa.

"Mass movements make people feel like they can do something as individuals to make a difference. The conversation in this country has definitely moved forward as more and more people see civil unrest on the news and read about people protesting, and interrupting political candidates."

Pam Oliver, a sociologist studying social movements at the University of Wisconsin, described the influence that Black Lives Matter is having on the national debate as an example of what some social scientists call "the radical flank effect." According to this theory, mass radical organizing normalizes confrontational, disruptive direct actions as both legitimate and effective, and provokes a political crisis powerful enough to force institutional systems to begin negotiating with moderate movement factions.

"It's a little more complicated when partisan politics get involved, but as a pattern to think about, radicals put pressure on the system and help moderates win," Oliver said. "The people in power don't really want to concede to the radicals, but they end up being forced to concede some of the more moderate demands to try and get a handle on things and cool things down."

The dynamic Oliver describes is undoubtedly happening nationwide in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. President Obama has proposed a limited demilitarization plan for urban police forces and recently became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, where he called for some measured alternatives to mass incarceration policies. Presidential candidates besides Bernie Sanders have begun to spell out racial justice platforms of their own, and "Black millennial" factions like Campaign Zero have released their own political demands.

Local Resistance to Racism in Iowa

Iowa is first in the nation in the disproportionate incarceration of Black people. Iowa is 88 percent white, 6 percent Latino and 3 percent Black, but 26 percent of prisoners in the Midwest farm state are Black. Black Iowans are eight times more likely to be arrested for petty marijuana offenses than white Iowans.

Police violence against Black Iowans is also well documented. In 2008, Des Moines police officers beat a Black man 14 times with batons as he lay on the ground. Waterloo, one of Iowa's most diverse and racially segregated cities, is currently the subject of five separate federal lawsuits for excessive force by police.

Iowa City, nicknamed the "People's Republic" because of the community's progressive values, has nevertheless struggled for years to deal fairly with an influx of Black migrants from Chicago who have largely been segregated on the city's southeast side. A recent study of mainstream media coverage of Iowa City's demographic shift found that "virtually every news item about the southeast conforms to stereotypes depicting African-Americans as lazy, uneducated, dependent on government handouts, and prone to criminal or immoral behavior."

Welburn, the Twitter activist and sociologist, says her personal experience as a Black person from Iowa tracks with the academic research.

"There's always been tension in Iowa between African Americans and the predominantly white community," Welburn said. "A lot of stereotyping and profiling, as long as I can remember. But there are people of color in Iowa, and there are long-standing black organizations like the University of Iowa Black Student Union whose members were behind many of the recent protests here. People are developing strategies to become more vocal to combat racism in the community."

"Any presidential candidate who wants the support of Iowans needs to take on working people's issues."

In December 2014, Black graduate students at the University of Iowa mobilized hundreds of people to attend protests in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the widespread outrage against the racist police killings of Black people. Just a few weeks ago, over a hundred people protested outside of Iowa City Hall after a Black 15-year-old was beaten by local police.

"I'm a mom, so if I see Black kids getting mistreated, I'm going to be like, 'hold on, because you are not going to do that to my kids,'" said LaTasha DeLoach, one of the Iowa City "Black Kids Play Too" demonstrators.

DeLoach grew up poor in Iowa City and is now a social worker running for political office as a candidate for the local school board. She calls the disproportionality of discipline against Black schoolchildren in Iowa City "pervasive and alarming."

"Some people may not like Black Lives Matter's tactics, but if anything they make you pay attention," DeLoach said. "They make you start asking questions. And the Occupy Wall Street folks did some of the same stuff."

"Now Black women in my generation are ready to stand up and speak out. We've been quiet all this time, while all of these things have happened to us, and I think it's important that now we have a seat at the table."

Black women in Iowa's capital city of Des Moines have also mobilized hundreds to Black Lives Matter protests over the last year. Demonstrations quickly broke out after a Black trans woman was discriminated against and arrested at a Des Moines metro-area hotel in July.

Pressure From Immigrant Workers

Low-wage immigrant and refugee workers have also been organizing in Iowa with the newly formed Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa. The faith and labor-backed group uses community meetings, direct action street protests and targeted negotiations with decision-makers to win on issues like wage theft, stopping deportations, community ID and raisingtheminimumwage.

"Any presidential candidate who wants the support of Iowans needs to take on working people's issues, like addressing wage theft and low wages," said Mazahir Salih, a low-wage worker and board member of the local worker justice center.

"We want the next president to ramp up enforcement of labor laws, raise the wage and strengthen workers' rights to organize. We must also re-haul our immigration laws, provide a progressive path to citizenship for every undocumented person and immediately stop deportations."

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is another people's action group with a long history of organizing family farmers, immigrants and Black people to fight for economic, environmental and racial justice. The group is planning a 40th anniversary convention for October 2 and 3 in Des Moines that will include keynote speeches by Moral Mondays founder Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza.

Shaping the Narrative of the Election Season

A year of urban riots followed by recent disruptions of presidential campaign events has succeeded in forcing the mainstream media and political system to consider the demands of racial justice activists.

"There is all kinds of information that shows white people are paying far more attention to Black issues after the surge of Black Lives Matter protests than they were before," Oliver said. "Significant strikes and riots will probably always produce headlines, but as elections heat up, party politics tend to crowd out all the other news in the paper. If you want to get your message out, showing up at an election event increases your chances of being heard because that's where all the reporters are."

To be successful, social movement organizers will have to navigate the open political space as an independent source of power, contending not only with super PACs, which are increasingly taking on campaign organizing and event planning in addition to attack ads and household mailers, but also with national advocacy and interest groups posing as grassroots activists, as well.

After Labor Day, Iowa and other early voting states will be flooded with campaign ads, field organizers and political operatives of all stripes and allegiances in an attempt by special interest groups to influence the primary races, jockey for internal control of the political parties and vie for public attention. Many of these outfits will attempt to orchestrate events to appear to be organic and homegrown, even if the plans, the staff and the money come from national advocacy groups and foundations based in Washington, DC.
Right-wing activists are also organizing and using the presidential election season to push their agenda forward. Nearly 200 pro-Confederate flag rallies have been held across the country this summer. Anti-choice protests in Iowa targeting Planned Parenthood and women's reproductive freedom mobilized 250 people on August 22 and more than 1,000 on August 15. Sen. Ted Cruz's rally for religious liberty turned out thousands of people. A popular conservative Iowa talk radio host recently called for enslaving immigrants who refuse to self-deport.

"The grassroots right has a lot of different elements," Oliver said. "There are the racist, nativist elements, who have clearly been exploding with activity recently. You've got the Tea Party and these right-wing populists where government somehow becomes the enemy instead of corporations. There's also a version of right-wing populism associated with Christian conservatism."

Building Radical Momentum in the Midwest

Taking on the combined forces of big money corporate spending, the grassroots right and liberal AstroTurf organizations is a daunting task for social movements to tackle and overcome. But grassroots organizing in Iowa, the Midwest and across the United States is having a real impact.

To sustain and build the momentum, movement leaders will have to mobilize more and broader layers of everyday people into durable, long-haul organizations, capable of scaling up and taking on larger, more sustained and more disruptive direct actions. Rank-and-file militants should learn to accept the inevitable bargaining between decision-makers and moderate movement factions, and keep fighting for more with their eyes on the only true prize: growing a real base of people power in workplaces, neighborhoods and communities across the country, which is truly independent of establishment interest groups, foundations, politicians and political parties.

"Candidates on both the left and the right are attempting to strike a populist image on a wide range of issues affecting working-class people," said Adam Mason, an Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement leader originally from rural Storm Lake. "Our members and many other everyday Iowans can see through the populist rhetoric on both sides, and we will be pressuring all candidates to back a specific set of 'People and Planet First' policies," added Mason, who currently serves as the organization's statewide policy organizing director.

"We'll also build and mobilize a base of social justice fighters that will hold the eventual nominees from both parties accountable to the people."

News Mon, 31 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Death Toll Rises as Refugees Head to Europe Seeking Safety

The European Union has called for emergency talks to address the rapidly growing number of people fleeing to Europe to escape violence and unrest in Syria, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, sub-Saharan Africa and other regions. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, approximately 2,500 people are believed to have died or gone missing trying to reach Europe so far this year. On Sunday, 37 people died when a boat capsized off the Libyan coast. This came just days after another boat capsized off the Libyan coast killing more than 200 people. Meanwhile, investigators in Hungary and Austrian authorities are continuing to probe the deaths of 71 people who were found abandoned last week inside a truck on the main highway between Budapest and Vienna. We speak to Joel Millman of the International Organization for Migration in Geneva; Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch; and Dr. Chiara Montaldo of Doctors Without Borders in the Sicilian town of Pozzallo in Italy. She has been providing medical and psychological care to people rescued from boats in the Mediterranean.


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

AMY GOODMAN: The European Union has called for emergency talks to address the rapidly growing number of people fleeing to Europe to escape violence and unrest in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, sub-Saharan Africa and other regions. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, approximately 2,500 people are believed to have died or gone missing trying to reach Europe so far this year. On Sunday, 37 people died when a boat capsized off the Libyan coast. This came just days after another boat capsized off the Libyan coast killing more than 200 people. Meanwhile, investigators in Hungary and Austrian authorities are continuing to probe the deaths of 71 people who were found abandoned last week inside a truck on the main highway between Budapest and Vienna. On Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on governments to take action on the migrant crisis in Europe.

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON: I am horrified and heartbroken as refugees and migrants are losing their lives in the Mediterranean, Europe and beyond. We have seen countless tragedies, most recently the grim discovery of more than 70 people who suffocated inside a truck in Austria. So many people have also drowned in the Mediterranean and also the Andaman Seas. We must understand why people are risking their lives: They are fleeing war, political instability and insecurity to seek a better future.

AMY GOODMAN: Hungary has responded to the situation by building a 109-mile-long razor-wire fence on its southern border. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports scenes of blatant racial profiling at Budapest's main train station. Authorities allowed white and lighter-skinned people to pass through, but stopped and demanded papers from virtually all darker-skinned people. On Saturday alone, Hungary detained 3,000 people. Over the weekend, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius accused Hungary of adopting a, quote, "scandalous" policy toward refugees. He made the remarks during an interview.

FOREIGN MINISTER LAURENT FABIUS: [translated] With regard to all those people who are politically chased out of their country and who are in war-torn countries, we have to be able to welcome them. It's called the plea for asylum, and every country has to respond to that - France, Germany, others. But when I see certain European countries that do not accept these groups, I find that scandalous.

REPORTER: [translated] Which countries are you speaking about?

FOREIGN MINISTER LAURENT FABIUS: [translated] Particularly countries that are situated in Eastern Europe.

REPORTER: [translated] Hungary, for example, what do you think of what's going on there?

FOREIGN MINISTER LAURENT FABIUS: [translated] They are extremely harsh. Hungary is part of Europe, which has values. We do not respect those values by putting up fences.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the crisis, we're joined by Joel Millman in Geneva, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration there. And here in New York, Ken Roth is with us, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! We also hope to go to the coast of Sicily, where migrants are pouring in to the coastal towns. But we're going to start right now in Geneva. Joel Millman, talk about the extent of the crisis. I think it's one that people in the United States are not very well aware of.

JOEL MILLMAN: Well, we're up 322,000 seaborne crossings into Europe, principally from Turkey into Greece and from Libya into Italy. This is, with four months to go in this year, 2015, we're already ahead of where we were last year at the end of August - I'm sorry, where we were for the whole, at 219,000. So we're 100,000 above that and with another third of the year to go.

These are people that are fleeing principally a handful of countries. Syria is number one, Eritrea, Somalia; now Afghanistan has become very prominent, as well - all people that generally, from those places, would merit consideration for asylum and resettlement. So, the tragedy is that people that would be treated as refugees by Europe under almost any circumstance are risking their lives for the opportunity to petition for something that most countries in the world think they already deserve.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the - what is fueling this mass migration, from Africa, from the Middle East, from around all of the surrounding countries around Europe.

JOEL MILLMAN: Well, we can't be naïve. I mean, what's fueling it is the conflict and the stress that's happening in a few societies. However, it's the lawlessness of places like Syria and Libya right now that deny Europe and the rest of the world any kind of government partner that they can access to try to control or manage this migration flow. We understand that there are demographic imperatives involved, that Europe has a falling birth rate. There's a huge demand for cheap labor, skilled and unskilled, and there's a huge dearth of jobs in the countries where these individuals are coming from. But the fact is, this is not a new condition. This has gone on for decades and had been managed. They've been managed with governments that aren't altogether savory to us, like Gaddafi's government in Libya. However, in the absence of real authority, criminal gangs have stepped up and opportunistically decided to start trafficking in migrants. Quite a number of these cases are people that may not have intended to go to Europe at all in the first place and have been kidnapped and coerced and stuffed onto boats. So we've seen that to a great degree, particularly in Tripoli and the western part of Libya. But, obviously, it's the inability of any government to control this effectively that's created the opportunity for lots of criminal gangs. And they're moving - while the profits are high, they're moving as many people as they can.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what the Schengen Agreement is?

JOEL MILLMAN: Well, it's an agreement that is among European countries, not solely those of the European Union, to be able to transit freely throughout the continent. It's to facilitate tourism and trade, and it's worked quite well for many decades, principally because, you know, Europeans are very affluent, and they follow rules very well, and, until recently, there wasn't quite a lot of people coming sort of irregularly - is the term we like to use - from outside Europe. Unfortunately, this is not a system built to make for orderly - you know, orderly transit through Europe when people that aren't there with documents or aren't there with valid visas start coming in these numbers. And the numbers are huge, as we discussed.

AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of migrants have sought shelter in a makeshift shantytown in the coastal town of Calais. This is an Afghan refugee named Wahib describing his experience there on the eve of a visit from European officials and French ministers.

WAHIB: Nobody is, like, treating us like as a human being here, you know? Everybody and police are - if you go, like, to city, some police see us, "Hey," go, "jungle, jungle." Like, we are human beings, so - they call us "jungle." You can see that, you know? So, it's like very embarrassing for me recently. I cannot say about other people, but for me it's like very embarrassing. It's just because that our country is not, like, good. It's - we cannot stay there. There's a war.

AMY GOODMAN: Joel Millman, if you could respond to what this migrant is saying? Joel Millman, speaking to us by video stream from Geneva, spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration.

JOEL MILLMAN: Well, it's tragic, obviously. The individual that was just interviewed, I mean, he's an English speaker. It's not perfect English, but obviously he's educated. Obviously, he's made it all the way from Afghanistan to Calais. These are people that show tremendous resolve. Sometimes they have resources, and often they have great education. They're able - they would be able to thrive, integrate well in any society, particularly in Europe or North America. And yet, you know, regulations and rules against transit are keeping them in countries where their lives are often at risk. And we don't - we are no longer seeing these people as members of our society and welcome; we're seeing them as threats, especially if they come from Muslim countries. And it's true. I mean, they're reduced to living in squalor, which we think is beneath the dignity of any human being, much less a migrant.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you calling on the European Union to do right now, Joel Millman?

JOEL MILLMAN: Well, mostly to be flexible. I mean, we don't lobby particularly; we're not an advocacy group. And we don't think it's proper to single Europe out, as many have, as not doing its share. I mean, Europe has taken on a tremendous burden and have done so even though it's a system that's shared by 28 countries in the EU, and then, of course, all the other countries not in the EU. They're trying to find a way to turn what had been a uniform policy into something more flexible, and I think they've made pretty good strides. I mean, Germany last week talked about shelving the Dublin rule, which insists that an asylum seeker only accept asylum from the first country he arrives in, which clearly isn't working. I mean, hundreds of thousands have crossed into Italy in the last two years, and very few of them stay there. They all want to go to northern Europe or Germany or UK So, this is the kind of flexibility that we'd like to see more of.

Obviously, we want more resettlement, more resettlement quotas. We want people in Europe to understand that it's not a zero-sum game between letting them drown, on one hand, or giving them asylum and access to every benefit in the society, on the other. There are many, many solutions in between. I mean, there's temporary protected status. There's humanitarian resettlement. There's all kinds of things that governments have done for decades that only require a little bit of clear thinking and a political will. You know, here at IOM, we often reflect that it was four years ago this summer that the world was faced with the so-called boat people crisis in Southeast Asia. And the speed and the diligence with which countries as far afield as Canada and the US, France, Australia, Thailand and others all pitched in and found solutions for millions of people over a very short period of time and resettled them so successfully is something to be inspired by. And, you know, you often feel like, "What's happened with the world? They used to have solutions for these kind of crises, and now they seem to only have excuses for why they can't act." We know we can do better. We know that we will, with time.

AMY GOODMAN: Joel Millman, I want to thank you for being with us, spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration, speaking to us by video stream from Geneva, Switzerland. When we come back, we're going to go to the front line to a coastal town in Sicily, where migrants are pouring in, overwhelming the communities, communities without solutions. We'll also be joined by the head of Human Rights Watch here in New York, Kenneth Roth. This is Democracy Now! We'll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: You've been listening to the Migrant Choir. This is a collaborative public choral piece that was staged at the Venice Biennale in mid-August this year as part of the Creative Time Summit. Migrants gathered from around the world. They came to Venice, and they sang in front of three countries that have turned immigrants away, in front of Italy, in front of the British Pavilion, as well as in front of the French Pavilion. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, as we continue to look at this massive global crisis.

The Mediterranean Sea has become one of the world's deadliest borders, as more than 340,000 people displaced by war and violence have attempted to reach Europe this year. We go now to the coast of Sicily to Dr. Chiara Montaldo, a coordinator with Doctors Without Borders in Pozzallo, Sicily, Italy, providing medical and psychological care to migrants and refugees rescued from boats in the Mediterranean. She recently wrote a piece for The Guardian called "We see more and more unaccompanied children on migrant boats."

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Dr. Montaldo. Describe what is happening in just your town alone, in Pozzallo, where you're working.

DR. CHIARA MONTALDO: Yes, good afternoon. What is happening here, we are receiving migrants since almost two years now. And honestly, the condition of the people we receive are worse and worse, not so much for the traveling in the sea, but really for the condition in Libya, in all the migration way before to come here. And the main point where they are now victim of violence is for sure Libya, where all the people that we talk with, they really tell us that now is really the hell. This is the word that they often use to describe Libya, is the "hell." There is no security. Many people have been really tortured or have been beaten. They come with the wounds and burns. Many women, but also many men, are raped. So, now what we see, unfortunately, are the consequences of the worsening of the situation in Libya. This is clear.

AMY GOODMAN: You retweeted someone writing, "We are alive only because we are not dead."


AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Montaldo, explain.

DR. CHIARA MONTALDO: Yeah, most of the people that we are receiving now are really escaping from death. So, why they risk their life in the sea? They know very well now that the sea is like Russian roulette. So, they can die, they know, because now there are more and more shipwreck and tragedies in the sea. But still they keep coming. Why? Because their condition in their own countries are worsening. First of all, Syria, of course, but not only Syria - Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria. So, all these people are really escaping from a situation where the risk of life is really high, higher than the trip in the sea. So that's why they keep coming. Not only this, because actually we receive people from many different nationalities, but many of them, they were already living in Libya. And now, as I told you, the situation is always worse and worse, so all these people, really, most of them, they come because they don't have choice, and especially because they don't have other alternatives to this trip in the sea. So, unfortunately, some of them, they could afford to buy a ticket, if they could, but there is no possibility, because there are no legal way in this moment allowing them to reach safely Europe or any way a safe place.

AMY GOODMAN: The piece, Dr. Montaldo, that you wrote in The Guardian, you write of the chemical burns on the people, especially who were in the hold of the boats. And you write about how the lighter-skinned immigrants will be above, and the darker-skinned immigrants, for example, from Africa, are below, where they're more likely to get burned, because the immigrants fear that if darker-skinned people are seen, they're more likely to be turned away.

DR. CHIARA MONTALDO: Yeah, yeah, the chemical burn are symptoms that we see quite often, in some type of landing. It means whenever the boat has some problem of fuel leaking. So sometimes the fuel come out, and because they are sit all in the boat, especially in the lower part of the body, the legs, they have these really burn, like a fire burn, but they are caused by the fuel. And sometimes they are really severe. Sometimes we need to admit them. Sometimes we can treat them at the first reception center.

And it is true that, unfortunately, even in the boat, there is a kind of hierarchy. All of them, unfortunately, are desperate, but there is a kind of a different kind of despair, because, unfortunately, even in the boat, there is a first and second class, if we can say like that. And so, the last of the chain, often they have the worst places, the places more dangerous. And we see more and more people who died because they are in the - they stay in the lower part of the boat, which is normally the more - the most dangerous, because they cannot breathe sometimes. The fuel is there, and the gas of the boat - they are there. So, for example, two days ago, one of our team received people survived from this tragedy. Fifty people died because they were in the lower part of the boat. And they were probably without oxygen, and they died. Unfortunately, in these kind of tragedies, the people in the boat, maybe like yesterday, 400 people in the boat, they fight for life. This is normal. This situation put them in a situation where even in between them sometimes there are tension, and everybody try to save their own life.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your message for Europeans who say, "We have too many problems of our own. We have to send these people back," Dr. Montaldo?

DR. CHIARA MONTALDO: Honestly, I think that in front of what we are facing now - people dying, people without alternative - I think that this discussion to send them back, to block our borders are really - for me, they are - we should not discuss about this. We should discuss how to help people who is trying now to save their life. How can we still be here asking ourself should we block them or should not? How can we still be here to think how to protect ourself? I think that all our discussion are to protect ourself. But for me and for my organization, the priority is not protect ourself, is not protect our borders, but to help people who are dying. And they will continue to die if we don't do anything. And our fences, our barriers and our border are the cause of many of these deaths.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of what people should be called, aside, of course, from simply "human beings" and "people" - "migrants," "refugees" - what do they prefer? And do you think they should be granted political asylum?

DR. CHIARA MONTALDO: So, what I think and what we think is that we prefer to call always the people "people," "human being," because for us what is important is to provide the care of the people in need, whoever they are, if they are refugees, if they are - whoever they are. So, we always prefer to call people "people," "human beings." Then, of course, there are differences, because some of them, they escape from the war; some of them, they escape from extreme poverty; some of them, they are victim of trafficking. So, there are many, many different people and many different reason for which people are escaping now. But, for us, this doesn't matter. These, for us, are human beings in need, in extreme need, human beings escaping from death, very often, or, anyway, from very dangerous situation. So, yes, we always prefer to call them "human being."

AMY GOODMAN: We are also joined by Kenneth Roth here in New York, executive director of Human Rights Watch. You have put out numerous reports on the situation of people who are migrating as a result of conflict, persecution, hunger, all the different reasons they do. What do you think has to happen now, Ken?

KENNETH ROTH: Well, Amy, let me first put this in perspective, because, you know, we're talking about a crisis. And yes, 310,000, 320,000 people are a lot of people. But Europe's population as a whole is about 500 million. So what we're talking about, the number of people who have come this year is less than 0.1 percent of Europe's population. Now, compare that to the United States, where undocumented people in this country are about 11 million. That's about 3.5 percent of the US population. So, in other words, the US population has completely integrated massive more people, a much larger percentage than Europe is facing. Indeed, the US has built an economy around these people, so that it would be difficult to send them back. We're having a debate now about a path to citizenship, but realistically, these people are here to stay, and the US has just incorporated them.

So, this is not really a crisis. I mean, Europe is perfectly able to manage integrating 0.1 percent of its population. The problem is, it doesn't want to - at least some people don't want to. We've seen real leadership. You saw the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, saying - very powerfully speaking for the need to welcome these people. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has also been very outspoken in this regard. So, we are seeing some leadership in Europe, but the right wing, in particular, is demagoguing this issue and is creating real problems, which are not real problems, they're political problems.

AMY GOODMAN: So what exactly should the European Union do right now?

KENNETH ROTH: Well, it's important to recognize that a very substantial percentage of these people are refugees. That is to say, they're fleeing conflict and persecution. Yes, there are some economic migrants among them, but most at least have a right not to be sent back to persecution. And once they land on European soil, they actually have a right to have their asylum claim adjudicated, and if indeed they are found to be refugees, as most of them will be, they're entitled to stay.

So what Europe needs to do is to stop treating the Mediterranean or the often-dangerous land crossing, stop treating sort of drowning and death, as a way of preserving its borders. It needs to find safe and legal routes for these people who really do need to flee, a way for them to get to Europe without risking their lives. And, you know, we've seen modest steps in that direction. If you look at sort of the way Europe has responded to the Mediterranean Sea crossing, when the Italians were in charge, they had something called Mare Nostrum, which very much focused on protecting people. The European Union then took over about a year ago with Operation Triton and put a priority on preserving Europe's borders over protecting people - until this last spring, when a thousand people died in the course of one week, and then it changed. But I'm not sure if it's changed enough, because even just this weekend we've seen a number of drownings off the Libyan coast. Europe should be patrolling much more aggressively near the Mediterranean coast to try to rescue people as quickly as possible, so they're not continuing to use drowning as a way of preserving Europe's borders.

AMY GOODMAN: So what does the United States have to do with it? I mean, you have these massive conflicts that have roiled the globe. Do we have a responsibility here?

KENNETH ROTH: Well, yes. If you look at why people are fleeing - let's take the Syrians, who are the largest percentage. In an ordinary war, you can get some degree of protection by moving away from the front lines. But in Syria, Assad is dropping barrel bombs in the middle of civilian neighborhoods that happen to be controlled by the opposition. There is no safe place to move in Syria if you're in opposition-held territory, which is why we have 4 million refugees from Syria today. So one very important thing to do is to go to the root causes of this, to try to put real pressure on Assad to stop barrel-bombing civilians, and to take comparable steps in the other major refugee-producing countries, like Somalia, Eritrea and Afghanistan. You know, let's not forget why we have this crisis. It's not that everybody woke up this morning and thought it would be nice to move to Europe. These people are being forced out because of severe conflict and persecution.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you see connections between what we're seeing in the United States - I mean, you have the Republican rhetoric; you have Donald Trump saying build a wall, Mexicans are rapists, all 11 million undocumented people should be deported; you have Chris Christie saying they should be treated like FedEx packages and tracked. What are the connections you see between what's happening in the United States and what's happening in Europe?

KENNETH ROTH: Well, there are commonalities between the right wing in both Europe and the United States. And what this is really about is some sense that the migrants are somehow destroying American culture or European culture, that these societies cannot incorporate the changes that would result from welcoming in, you know, hundreds of thousands or, in some cases in the US, millions of people. Now, the United States, in fact, is just fine. In fact, it's been greatly enriched by the immigration. And it's not as if American culture is radically different today from what it was, you know, two or three decades ago. It's not as if American democracy is in jeopardy. But this is nonetheless an argument that the right wing likes to put forward, that the American way of life is in jeopardy. And you see very similar arguments in Europe, aggravated by the fact that so many of these asylum seekers and migrants are Muslims. And there's this terrifying fear in Europe that, you know, largely Christian Europe is somehow going to changed for the worse because a handful of Muslims are going to come in. And so there is this unfortunate right-wing, racist commonality.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, Ken Roth, for being with us. I hope you'll stay, because we're going to be talking about Egypt soon with Sharif Abdel Kouddous in Cairo, the three Al Jazeera reporters that were just sentenced to three years in prison. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights [Watch] here in New York. And thanks so much to Dr. Chiara Montaldo, who is coordinator with Doctors Without Borders, speaking to us from Pozzallo in Sicily, Italy. Of course, we'll continue to follow this issue.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, though, we're going north to Alaska. President Obama is there. He's renaming the tallest mountain in North America, Mount McKinley - he's renaming it Denali. And we will talk about climate change in Alaska, before we go to Cairo. Stay with us.

News Mon, 31 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400