Truthout Stories Mon, 05 Oct 2015 11:14:29 -0400 en-gb Climate Change Could Be Catalyst to Build a Fairer Economic System

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is calling this weekend's torrential rainfall that has triggered flooding and led to eight deaths in the Carolinas a once-in-a-millennium downpour. According to the National Weather Service, the storm had dumped more than 20 inches of rain in parts of central South Carolina since Friday. This month also marks the third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, one of the most destructive storms in the nation's history. Researchers say such extreme weather events are becoming more frequent with the effects of climate change, with 2015 on track to be the hottest year in recorded history. In Part Two of our conversation with Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis on their new film, This Changes Everything, we talk about what we can learn from such extreme weather events.

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News Mon, 05 Oct 2015 11:10:52 -0400
One Year After "End" to War in Afghanistan, Aid Workers Reveal Real Story

While many Americans believe that the war in Afghanistan is winding down, peace activists and medical aid workers tell a different story. "It really shows how mainstream media has failed to tell the truth to the world," says Dr. Hakim, a medical doctor who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for the last decade. "The war is going on. It is accelerating. Both the Red Cross and the United Nations has reported an increased civilian deaths in the past few years. It is getting worse. It is definitely not scaling down. I think Americans need to know the taxpayer money is going to a war that is worsening." Doctors Without Borders is calling for an independent investigation of a US airstrike on a hospital in Kunduz that left 22 dead, including 12 staff members and 10 patients, three of them children. We speak with Dr. Hakim, as well as Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, who just returned from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Dr. Gino Strada, co-founder of Emergency, an Italian NGO that provides free medical care to victims of war.

Please check back later for full transcript.

News Mon, 05 Oct 2015 11:06:06 -0400
Outrage After US Airstrike on Hospital Kills 22 Patients and Staff in Afghanistan

Doctors Without Borders is demanding an independent international inquiry into a US airstrike Saturday on an Afghan hospital in the city of Kunduz that killed 22 people, including 12 staff members and 10 patients, three of them children. At least three dozen people were injured. The attack continued for 30 minutes after the US and Afghan militaries were informed by telephone that the hospital was being bombed. We speak with Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, who just returned from Kabul, Afghanistan; Gino Strada, co-founder of Emergency, an Italian NGO that provides free medical care to victims of war; and Dr. Hakim, a medical doctor who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for the last decade.

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News Mon, 05 Oct 2015 11:02:28 -0400
Ayotzinapa: Necropolitics and the Media Become Judge and Jury

"In a tragic incident in Egypt, Mexican tourists were attacked. I deeply regret that people have lost their lives," tweeted Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on September 13, shortly after the news was released that a caravan of Mexican tourists was violently attacked by Egyptian security forces. Over the next week Peña Nieto went on to tweet over a dozen more times about these tragic events in Egypt, sending his condolences to families and promises to assist the victims.

Each of these tweets represents 140 characters more than those which Peña Nieto was willing to extend to the Ayotzinapa rural teaching college students. These students known as Normalistas were forcibly disappeared by state security forces on September 26, 2014, in Iguala, Guerrero and to date, their whereabouts are unknown. The same night three of these students were killed, one of whom was found with his face torn off, and three bystanders. Two days after this attack, the president cancelled a trip he had planned to Guerrero and remained silent on the issue for over a week.

The news quickly spread about the attack and thousands took to the streets and social networks to denounce what they called "Narco Politics" where the thin line that separated organized crime and the government was blurred long ago. Peña Nieto found himself on the defensive and officially addressed the nation, promising to investigate what happened, although the resources he dedicated didn't reflect this compromise.

"We still remember your indifference during the first weeks of our tragedy," read a statement by the families of the 43, released three days before the year anniversary as they prepared for a meeting with Peña Nieto.

Last fall, recognizing the government's unwillingness to search for the students, citizen self-defense groups found themselves scourging Guerrero's lush green hilltops to find them. They didn't find the 43 education students, but they did unearth over 100 other clandestine graves. Each one revealed the horror of decaying bodies and bones that did not actually belong to the students. The question then remained who did they belong to? When did Mexico's rural hillsides turn into mass graves? Most likely these bodies belonged to local families who had spent years anguishing over their unexplained absence. Following the unearthing of these graves, hundreds of people in Iguala and other parts of Guerrero found the strength to come forward and speak out about their missing loved ones.

A new phrase then entered the popular vernacular, that of the "Necropolitica," or in English, Necro Politics. African scholar, Achille Mbembe wrote about these politics where the state has the "power and the capacity to dictate who may live and who must die." On November 7, 2014, a month and a half after the students forced disappearance, Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam declared in his "historical truth" that the students were all burned in a garbage dump and that all that was left of them are bags of ashes. Students responded to the government's claim by lighting the government palace on fire and the parents turned to the independent Argentine forensics to see if this twisted horror was actually true.

In Necropolitics, Chembe writes about state violence where, "In the case of massacres in particular, lifeless bodies are quickly reduced to the status of simple skeletons. Their morphology henceforth inscribes them in the register of undifferentiated generality: simple relics of an unburied pain, empty, meaningless corporealities, strange deposits plunged into cruel stupor."

For me the Necro Politics are reflected in the sheer cynicism of a government that kidnaps students, fails to thoroughly investigate their whereabouts and then claims that they were executed and burned to ashes. This is a politics where the very act of living is an act of resistance. A politics where the government not only buries the victims of its failing and poorly named "war on drugs," but also closes their investigations and buries their stories.

This is definitely not the first time that a tragedy of this scale has happened in Mexico but it may be the first time that the victims have had the unity and strength to not let their stories be buried and have refused to be bought off by the government. They have traversed not only all of Mexico in their dignified search for their children but also the world, allowing the international community to understand the grave human rights situation that Mexico is living.

"You have tortured us by privileging a political timeline instead of the rights of the victims," write the parents in their communique toward the president demanding that his government continues to search for the students and stops criminalizing and delegitimizing their struggle.

Last year just as the federal government was ready to close the case, a group of independent experts commissioned by the Inter American commission on Human Rights were called in to thoroughly investigate the case. Six months later they called the government's bluff, saying that the students were not actually burned in the Cocula garbage dump as the government claimed. They also highlighted the role that the various levels of government played in the coordination of the attack, including the military and federal police. In their report they also write about the prevalence of a fifth bus that the government conveniently forgot to include in their investigation and there is a possibility that this bus may have been packed full of heroin ready to be transported to Chicago.

As the government's version of the Iguala case started to crumble, they found themselves on the defensive, cocked their guns and fought back full force. The countries' media outlets helped them fire their weapons. First the government did everything within their power to discredit the independent forensic scientist who said that the fire in Cocula never happened. When that didn't seem to do enough to discredit the report they whipped out their next weapon on September 16, a federal holiday when the majority of the country is too exhausted from the previous night's independence festivities to pay attention to the news. The new Attorney General Arely Gomez delivered her sinister message announcing that Innsbruck, the Austrian forensics lab, had positively identified the remains of yet another Normalista student, Jhosivani Guerrero de la Cruz.

The press immediately repeated the message with their headlines claiming "Another Normalista identified" instead of saying "Government says another Normalista identified." This difference is essential, considering all the lives that the government has put forth in this case and in fact the following day the EEAF, the Independent Argentine Forensic team released a statement saying that they did not consider the identification as a positive one, that instead it represented a positive genetic correlation. Also, the Argentines maintained that they were not present during the excavation of the bags of ashes and therefore could not confirm that it had come from the Cocula garbage dump as the government had claimed.

And then, somehow the next day, state security forces were able to "peacefully" capture Public Enemy #1 "El Gil," Gildardo López Astudillo, who according to the government is the head capo of Los Guerreros Unidos, the regional drug cartel responsible for the attack. This is not the first time, and surely won't be the last that the government magically captures a wanted drug trafficker when their credibility is on the line. In this case, the media was once again quick to act as judge and jury running headlines like "Head of Guerreros Unidos Captured" before his trial could even start.

The media has also played a powerful role in holding the government accountable and reporting on the numerous massacres in which the government has played a key role, including Tlatlaya and Apatzingan. On this tragic anniversary of a day that will never be forgotten in Mexican history, the media will have the opportunity to just repeat the lies the government has been propagating since day one or amplify the voices of the families clamoring for justice for their missing sons.

This article was reprinted at ZNet.

Opinion Mon, 05 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
US Military Budget Reaches New Record

To listen to the Republican candidates' debate last week, one would think that President Obama had slashed the US military budget and left our country defenseless. Nothing could be farther off the mark. There are real weaknesses in Obama's foreign policy, but a lack of funding for weapons and war is not one of them. President Obama has in fact been responsible for the largest US military budget since the Second World War, as is well documented in the US Department of Defense's annual "Green Book."

The table below compares average annual Pentagon budgets under every president since Truman, using "constant dollar" figures from the FY2016 Green Book. I'll use these same inflation-adjusted figures throughout this article, to make sure I'm always comparing "apples to apples." These figures do not include additional military-related spending by the VA, CIA, Homeland Security, Energy, Justice or State Departments, nor interest payments on past military spending, which combine to raise the true cost of US militarism to about $1.3 trillion per year, or one thirteenth of the US economy.

US Military Budgets 1948-2015

  • Obama FY2010-15 $663.4 billion per year

  • Bush Jr FY2002-09* $634.9 " " "

  • Clinton FY1994-2001 $418.0 " " "

  • Bush Sr FY1990-93 $513.4 " " "

  • Reagan FY1982-89 $565.0 " " "

  • Carter FY1978-81 $428.1 " " "

  • Ford FY1976-77 $406.7 " " "

  • Nixon FY1970-75 $441.7 " " "

  • Johnson FY1965-69 $527.3 " " "

  • Kennedy FY1962-64 $457.2 " " "

  • Eisenhower FY1954-61 $416.3 " " "

  • Truman FY1948-53 $375.7 " " "

*Excludes $80 billion supplemental added to FY2009 under Obama.

The USmilitary receives more generous funding than the rest of the 10 largest militaries in the world combined (China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, UK, France, Japan, India, Germany & South Korea). And yet, despite the chaos and violence of the past 15 years, the Republican candidates seem oblivious to the dangers of one country wielding such massive and disproportionate military power.

On the Democratic side, even Senator Bernie Sanders has not said how much he would cut military spending. But Sanders regularly votes against the authorization bills for these record military budgets, condemning this wholesale diversion of resources from real human needs and insisting that war should be a "last resort."

Sanders' votes to attack Yugoslavia in 1999 and Afghanistan in 2001, while the UN Charter prohibits such unilateral uses of force, do raise troubling questions about exactly what he means by a "last resort." As his aide Jeremy Brecher asked Sanders in his resignation letter over his Yugoslavia vote, "Is there a moral limit to the military violence that you are willing to participate in or support? Where does that limit lie? And when that limit has been reached, what action will you take?" Many Americans are eager to hear Sanders flesh out a coherent commitment to peace and disarmament to match his commitment to economic justice.

When President Obama took office, Congressman Barney Frank immediately called for a 25% cut in military spending. Instead, the new president obtained an $80 billion supplemental to the FY2009 budget to fund his escalation of the war in Afghanistan, and his first full military budget (FY2010) was $761 billion, within $3.4 billion of the $764.3 billion post-WWII record set by President Bush in FY2008.

The Sustainable Defense Task Force, commissioned by Congressman Frank and bipartisan Members of Congress in 2010, called for $960 billion in cuts from the projected military budget over the next 10 years. Jill Stein of the Green Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Partycalled for a 50% cut in US military spending in their 2012 presidential campaigns. That seems radical at first glance, but a 50% cut in the FY2012 budget would only have been a 13% cut from what President Clinton spent in FY1998.

Clinton's $399 billion FY1998 military budget was the nearest we came to realizing the "peace dividend" promised at the end of the Cold War. But that didn't even breach the Cold War baseline of $393 billion set after the Korean War (FY1954) and the Vietnam War (FY1975). The largely unrecognized tragedy of today's world is that we allowed the "peace dividend" to be trumped by what Carl Conetta of the Project on Defense Alternatives calls the "power dividend," the desire of military-industrial interests to take advantage of the collapse of the USSR. to consolidate global US military power.

The triumph of the "power dividend" over the "peace dividend" was driven by some of the most powerful vested interests in history. But at each step, there were alternatives to war, weapons production and global military expansion.

At a Senate Budget Committee hearing in December 1989, former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Assistant Secretary Lawrence Korb, a Democrat and a Republican, testified that the FY1990 $542 billion Pentagon budget could be cut by half over the next 10 years to leave us with a new post-Cold War baseline military budget of $270 billion, 60% less than President Obama has spent and 20% below what even Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson called for.

There was significant opposition to the First Gulf War - 22 Senators and 183 Reps voted against it, including Sanders - but not enough to stop the march to war. The war became a model for future US-led wars and served as a marketing display for a new generation of US weapons. After treating the public to endless bombsight videos of "smart bombs" making "surgical strikes," US officials eventually admitted that such "precision" weapons were only 7% of the bombs and missiles raining down on Iraq. The rest were good old-fashioned carpet-bombing, but the mass slaughter of Iraqis was not part of the marketing campaign. When the bombing stopped, US pilots were ordered to fly straight from Kuwait to the Paris Air Show, and the next three years set new records for US weapons exports.

Presidents Bush and Clinton made significant cuts in military spending between 1992 and 1994, but the reductions shrank to 1-3% per year between 1995 and 1998 and the budget started rising again in 1999. Meanwhile, US officials crafted new rationalizations for the use of US military force to lay the ideological groundwork for future wars. Untested and highly questionable claims that more aggressive US use of force could have prevented the genocide in Rwanda or civil war in Yugoslavia have served to justify the use of force elsewhere ever since, with universally catastrophic results. Neoconservatives went even further and claimed that seizing the post-Cold War power dividend was essential to US security and prosperity in the 21st century.

The claims of both the humanitarian interventionists and the neoconservatives were emotional appeals to different strains in the American psyche, driven and promoted by powerful people and institutions whose careers and interests were bound up in the growth of the military industrial complex. The humanitarian interventionists appealed to Americans' desire to be a force for good in the world. As Madeleine Albright asked Colin Powell, "What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about if we can't use it?" On the other hand, the neocons played on the insularity and insecurity of many Americans to claim that the world must be dominated by US military power if we are to preserve our way of life.

The Clinton administration wove many of these claims into a blueprint for global US military expansion in its 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review. The QDR threatened the unilateral use of US military force, in clear violation of the UN Charter, to defend "vital" US interests all over the world, including "preventing the emergence of a hostile regional coalition," and "ensuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources."

To the extent that they are aware of the huge increase in military spending since 1998, most Americans would connect it with the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the ill-defined "war on terror." But Carl Conetta's research established that, between 1998 and 2010, only 20% of US military procurement and RDT&E(research, development, testing & evaluation) spending and only half the total increase in military spending was related to ongoing military operations. In his 2010 paper, An Undisciplined Defense, Conetta found that our government had spent an extra 1.15 trillion dollars above and beyond Clinton's FY1998 baseline on expenses that were unrelated to to itscurrent wars.

Most of the additional funds, $640 billion, were spent on new weapons and equipment (Procurement + RDT&E in the Green Book). Incredibly, this was more than double the $290 billion the military spent on new weapons and equipment for the wars it was actually fighting. And the lion's share was not for the Army, but for the Air Force and Navy.

There has been political opposition to the F-35 warplane, which activists have dubbed "the plane that ate the budget" and whose eventual cost has been estimated at $1.5 trillion for 2,400 planes. But the Navy's procurement and RDT&E budgets rival the Air Force's.

Former General Dynamics CEO Lester Crown's political patronage of a young politician named Barack Obama, whom he first met in 1989 at the Chicago law firm where Obama was an intern, has worked out very well for the family firm. Since Obama won the Presidency, with Lester's son James and daughter-in-law Paula as his Illinois fundraising chairs and 4th largest bundlers nationwide, General Dynamics stock price has gained 170% and its latest annual report hailed 2014 as its most profitable year ever, despite an overall 30% reduction in Pentagon procurement and RDT&E spending since FY2009.

Although General Dynamics is selling fewer Abrams tanks and armored vehicles since the US withdrew most of its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, its Marine Systems division is doing better than ever. The Navy increased its purchases of Virginia class submarines from one to two per year in 2012 at $2 billion each. It is buying one new Arleigh Burke class destroyer per year through 2022 at $1.8 billion apiece (Obama reinstated that program as part of his missile defense plan), and the FY2010 budget handed General Dynamics a contract to build 3 new Zumwalt class destroyers for $3.2 billion each, on top of $10 billion already spent on research and development. That was despite a US Navy spokesman calling the Zumwalt "a ship you don't need," as it will be especially vulnerable to new anti-ship missiles developed by potential enemies. General Dynamics is also one of the largest US producers of bombs and ammunition, so it is profiting handsomely from the US bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria.

Carl Conetta explains the US's unilateral arms build-up as the result of a lack of discipline and a failure of military planners to make difficult choices about the kind of wars they are preparing to fight or the forces and weapons they might need. But this massive national investment is justified in the minds of US officials by what they can use these forces to do. By building the most expensive and destructive war machine ever, designing it to be able to threaten or attackjust about anybody anywhere, and justifying its existence with a combination of neocon and humanitarian interventionist ideology, US officials have fostered dangerous illusions about the very nature of military force. As historian Gabriel Kolko warned in 1994, "options and decisions that are intrinsically dangerous and irrational become not merely plausible but the only form of reasoning about war and diplomacy that is possible in official circles."

The use of military force is essentially destructive. Weapons of war are designed to hurt people and break things. All nations claim to build and buy them only to defend themselves and their people against the aggression of others. The notion that the use of military force can ever be a force for good may, at best, apply to a few very rare, exceptional situations where a limited but decisive use of force has put an end to an existing conflict and led to a restoration of peace. The more usual result of the use or escalation of force is to cause greater death and destruction, to fuel resistance and to cause more widespread instability. This is what has happened wherever the US has used force since 2001, including in its proxy and covert operations in Syria and Ukraine.

We seem to be coming full circle, to once again recognize the dangers of militarism and the wisdom of the US leaders and diplomats who played instrumental roles in crafting the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Kellogg Briand Pact and much of the existing framework of international law. These treaties and conventions were based on the lived experience of our grandparents that a world where war was permitted was no longer sustainable. So they were dedicated, to the greatest extent possible, to prohibiting and eliminating war and to protecting people everywhere from the horror of war as a basic human right.

As President Carter said in his Nobel lecture in 2002, "War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good." Recent US policy has been a tragic experiment in renormalizing the evil of war. This experiment has failed abysmally, but there remains much work to do to restore peace, to repair the damage, and to recommit the United States to the rule of law.

If we compare US military spending with global military spending, we can see that, as the US cut its military budget by a third between 1985 and 1998, the rest of the world followed suit and global military budgets also fell by a third between 1988 and 1998. But as the US spent trillions of dollars on weapons and war after 2000, boosting its share of global military spending from 38% to 48% by 2008, both allies and potential enemies again responded in kind. The 92% rise in the US military budget by 2008 led to a 65% rise in global military spending by 2011.

US propaganda presents US aggression and military expansion as a force for security and stability. In reality, it is US militarism that has been driving global militarism, and US-led wars and covert interventions that have spawned subsidiary conflicts and deprived millions of people of security and stability in country after country. But just as diplomacy and peacemaking between the US and USS.R. led to a 33% fall in global military spending in the 1990s, a new US commitment to peace and disarmament today would likewise set the whole world on a more peaceful course.

In his diplomacy with Cuba and Iran and his apparent readiness to finally respond to Russian diplomacy on Syria and Ukraine, President Obama appears to have learned some important lessons from the violence and chaos that he and President Bush have unleashed on the world. The most generous patron the military industrial complex has ever known may finally be looking for diplomatic solutions to the crises caused by his policies.

But Obama's awakening, if that is what it turns out to be, has come tragically late in his presidency, for millions of victims of US war crimes and for the future of our country and the world. Whoever we elect as our next President must therefore be ready on day one to start dismantling this infernal war machine and building a "permanent structure of peace," on a firm foundation of humanity, diplomacy and a renewed US commitment to the rule of international law.

News Mon, 05 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Chemical in Mothers' Urine Linked to Low Birth Weights in China

A pregnant woman's exposure to BPA may potentially increase the risk of delivering babies with low birth weights, according to a new study from China.

During the course of the study, which ran from 2012 to 2014, 452 mother-infant pairs were selected from Wuhan, the most populous city in Central China. Urine samples were collected from the mothers at delivery and measured for bisphenol-A (BPA). Using birth weight data obtained from medical records, the researchers then evaluated the relationship between urinary BPA levels and low birth weight.

They found that mothers of newborns with lower birth weights had significantly higher BPA levels in their urine than the control mothers, according to the study published this month in Environment International.

They also found that the association between low birth weight and higher BPA levels was more pronounced among the female babies, suggesting female babies might be more susceptible to BPA than males.

The study, the first of its kind in China, adds to growing evidence that fetal exposure to BPA might cause developmental problems.

BPA is an endocrine-disrupting chemical that can act like estrogen in the body. Human and animal studies have linked the chemical to reproductive, behavioral and endocrine effects.

Even the most diligent mothers-to-be may find it challenging to avoid contact with BPA. It is ubiquitous - used to make polycarbonate plastics and commonly found in food and drink packaging, and in thermal receipts.

The study doesn't prove BPA caused the low birth weights. Low birth weight can happen for a number of different reasons.

However, it is concerning as babies with low birth weights may be more at risk for other health problems, such as increased susceptibility to disease and infection, or longer-term problems such as learning disabilities or delayed motor and social development.

And it isn't the first study to link prenatal BPA exposure to impaired development. In 2013, findings from a Dutch study suggest that BPA exposure at levels commonly found in people may slow fetal growth.

In addition, a 2014 study linked high BPA levels in the placenta to lower birth weights.

News Mon, 05 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
How to Drought-Proof California's Farms

Three years into its most severe drought in over a thousand years, it's unclear how much longer California can continue growing half of the nation's produce. The crisis confronting Big Ag and family farmers alike may signal the end of agriculture as it's currently practiced. But it need not spell doom for farming altogether: On the contrary, a handful of ecology-minded growers think California could produce plenty of food even with limited amounts of water.

For starters, they say, state agriculture and water policymakers could study the practices of farmers like Warren Brush. He runs a 50-acre family farm in the high and dry foothills south of Santa Barbara, where annual rainfall has dropped to just over 10 inches.

Many drought-stricken California farmers are seeing not just production and profits plummet but, even more ominously, well depth. Brush, on the other hand, continues to irrigate hundreds of thirsty avocado trees without depleting his well; the water in his well was at a level of about 240 feet below the ground in December, but after a dry winter and spring, it stands much higher, at 100 feet.

Typical agricultural well depth in California is 800 feet, and deep-pocketed farms and vineyards are drilling ever deeper, threatening to collapse the aquifers that feed them.  Brush recharged his well using agro-ecology techniques that are appropriate in dry areas the world over. His innovations caught the attention of the US Agency for International Development, which now contracts with Brush to teach people how they can apply his techniques in Africa.

How does Brush drought-proof a farm? Use the water that lands on it, he says, all of it.

"When we mimic nature's ability to slow, spread and sink water into the landscape and protect it from evaporation through shading with vegetation and mulches, we can recharge our landscape," Brush explains.

Instead of letting water run downhill off his farm, Brush contours the land and uses minimal tilling so that the soil stays moist enough to quench the thirsty plant roots. Simple infiltration structures convey the water back where it originally came from (underground), eliminating runoff and recharging the well.

Brush also adds compost and manure to the soil, and thereby does four jobs at once: He fertilizes the soil without chemicals, creates air pockets that allow water to infiltrate, prevents soil and nutrient erosion, and sequesters in the ground vast amounts of carbon that would otherwise lurk in the atmosphere, heating the planet and worsening the drought.

Once these conservation practices are put in place, Brush says, he's confident that he and the farmers he's trained can survive even faced with long-term drought. Whereas other desperate farmers are demanding delivery of quantities of water beyond what actually exist, Brush and his adherents seem to operate in a parallel universe, in which drought is of little concern.

"We can learn from nature's example how to create a landscape that works like a sponge, efficiently infiltrating and storing rainwater so that our farms become resilient and drought-proof," Brush says. Eager to teach others, he offers a free "earthworks resiliency" class, in addition to hands-on courses in California, Europe and Australia.

Ag innovators like Brush are part of a small but growing agrarian counterculture committed to working within natural limits. These renegades include ranchers who employ a grazing technique known as holistic management to restore eroded rangelands. Developed by Zimbabwean biologist-farmer Allan Savory back in the mid-1980s, the approach uses cattle to fertilize the land, increase its water-capturing ability, and capture carbon.

By Brush's reckoning, if California's 28 million acres of agricultural land were managed like his farm or holistically grazed, they could produce as much food as they do now using little more than the 10 inches of rain that fall from the sky.

In January, the California Climate and Agriculture Network, or CalCan, a sustainable agriculture advocacy organization, echoed many of Brush's practices in the recommendations it made to Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor has directed the Department of Food and Agriculture to coordinate several healthy soil initiatives over the next year, although a bill that would have provided funding for these initiatives failed to pass the legislature.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils. With drought devastating more and more farms and ranches, the declaration comes not a moment too soon. Here in America's Salad Bowl, we have a responsibility to restore our soils to health and produce as much food, with as little water, as possible.

Warren Brush may not be worried about the drought, but the rest of us are.

News Mon, 05 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Electoral Revolution in Brazil Aimed at Neutralising Corporate Influence

(Photo: Brazilian Currency via Shutetrstock)(Photo: Brazilian Currency via Shutetrstock; Edited: LW / TO)

Rio de Janeiro - From now on, elections in Brazil will be more democratic, without corporate interference, which had become decisive and corruptive. A Sep. 17 Supreme Court ruling declared unconstitutional articles of the elections act that allow corporate donations to election campaigns.

The 8-3 verdict came in response to a legal challenge brought by the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) against the laws authorising and regulating donations by big corporations to political parties and candidates.

In its challenge to the constitutionality of the elections act articles in question, the OAB argued that they violate the democratic principle - the backbone of the 1988 constitution - which established that all citizens are political equals, with each individual vote carrying the same weight.

The verdict also stated that corporate financing runs counter to the first article of the constitution, which establishes that the political representatives elected by the people must serve the public good and that there must be a strict separation between the public and private spheres.

Citing academic studies, the OAB further asserted that corporate donations transfer economic inequality to the political sphere, negating democracy and tending towards a "plutocracy" or government by the rich.

Campaign donations from corporations give them undue influence over politics by putting candidates in their debt, bound to defend "the economic interests of their donors in the drafting of legislation, the design and execution of the budget, administrative regulation, public tenders and public procurement," the OAB added.

Corruption is also a major factor in this promiscuous relationship between money and politics. And campaign financing is almost always an element present in political scandals.

Today's big scandal, which decisively influenced the Supreme Court ruling, involves a kickback scheme in the state-owned oil firm Petrobras, which suffered at least six billion dollars in losses from graft and overvalued assets.

More than 30 politicians have been accused of receiving bribes from large construction and engineering firms in return for inflated contracts, and part of the funds allegedly financed candidates and political parties in election campaigns.

The ban on corporate donations will also lead to a reduction in gender imbalances in politics, sociologist Clara Araujo at the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) told IPS.

Female candidates receive little campaign funding from their parties, but they are given larger proportions of donations from individuals than from companies, the opposite of male candidates, she said, based on the study "Women in the 2010 Elections," which she co-authored, and on figures from 2014.

As a result of discrimination by political parties, reflected by underfunding and less advertising time, especially on TV, women are underrepresented in Congress, where they hold only 10 percent of seats in the lower house and 13.6 percent in the Senate, although they make up 52 percent of voters.

"The Supreme Court judgment is good news in the midst of the chaos of Brazil's political crisis," because it brings new balance to a game that was unfavourable to women, Guacira de Oliveira, one of the directors of the Feminist Centre of Studies and Advice (CFEMEA), told IPS.

But it has come at a moment of great uncertainty, when the crisis tends to have a greater impact on progressive political currents, and it will not change the rules that maintain inequality within and between the political parties.

Public resources, such as the official Party Fund, and radio and TV time for candidates will continue to benefit the big parties, since they are distributed proportionally to the number of seats held by each party, Oliveira lamented.

Only in-depth political reforms, called for by civil society organisations, could effectively democratise the election process. But the current legislature, where conservative lawmakers are a majority, would never approve that.

Far-reaching political reforms would require a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution - which may become a possibility if the crisis gets worse.

But without corporate donations, "campaigns will suffer a sharp drop in funding, which means candidates and parties will have to cut costs. Internet and the social networks, which already had a growing participation in the elections, will become much more important," said Fernando Lattman-Weltman, a professor of politics at the UERJ.

"But money will seek other ways to influence politics," he added. "The legal door of donations was closed and the illegal route has become more difficult, after the scandals, imprisonment, and disqualification of many of the people implicated in the corruption, but they will look for loopholes in the law," he told IPS.

Election campaigns have become expensive in Brazil in the last two decades, with the intense use of advertising techniques. Media advisers have become indispensable, and more and more costly to hire. Some have become celebrities, whose fame has transcended national borders.

After their triumphs in Brazil, they have been hired for tens of millions of dollars to head campaigns in other countries of Latin America, or in Africa.

Large campaign teams specialising in working the airwaves and the press have turned election campaigns into a media war between well-paid armies of advisers, following the US model, with ongoing qualitative surveys providing guidance for speeches, slogans and TV ads and appearances.

Now candidates will have to return to the basics: personal speeches, direct public relations, street rallies and armies of volunteers, said Lattman-Weltman.

Without resources to produce and broadcast sophisticated ads, "candidates will try to seduce the media, trying to make them more biased and identified with specific parties," like in the United States, he said, referring to dangerous side-effects of the new scenario.

Generating new political developments and creativity in campaigns will also become more important factors, he said.

Without the millions of dollars in donations from companies, the game will be less unequal, but candidates who already have power and are well-known by the public, like legislators, governors or other political leaders, will enjoy a big advantage over new candidates, Oliveira said.

That is a disadvantage faced by women in general, who began to participate in elections more recently, and who make up a small minority in the executive and legislative branches - even though one woman, Dilma Rousseff, has been president of this country of 202 million people since 2011.

Celebrities like TV hosts, actors and footballers, along with prominent trade unionists and social activists, will likely be the most sought-after by the parties.

The next elections, for mayors and city councilors in Brazil's 5,570 municipalities, will be a test of how campaigns will work without legal and illegal donations from the big sponsors, especially in big cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Statistics from the Superior Electoral Court from 2010 and 2014, when presidential, state and legislative elections were held, point to "a strong correlation between the amount of spending and victory," said Araujo.

So without a right to vote, companies had become a decisive factor in elections. In other words, "the big voter was money," said Claudio Weber Abramo, director of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency Brazil, in a statement reflected by the OAB in its successful legal challenge that led the Supreme Court to put an end to elections dominated by corporate financing.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes.

News Mon, 05 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Bernanke: Some Wall Street Executives Should've Gone to Jail Over Financial Crisis

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says some Wall Street executives should have gone to jail for their roles in the financial crisis that gripped the country in 2008 and triggered the Great Recession.

Billions of dollars in fines have been levied against major banks and brokerage firms in the wake of the economic meltdown that was in large part triggered by reckless lending and shady securities dealings that blew up a housing bubble.

But in an interview with USA Today published Sunday, Bernanke said he thinks that in addition to the corporations, individuals should have been held more accountable. He is promoting his 600-page memoir, "The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath," scheduled to be published Monday.

"It would have been my preference to have more investigations of individual actions because obviously everything that went wrong or was illegal was done by some individual, not by an abstract firm," Bernanke said. 

Asked if someone should have gone to jail, the former Fed chairman replied, "Yeah, I think so." He did not, however, name any individual he thought should have been prosecuted, and he noted that the Federal Reserve is not a law-enforcement agency.

News Mon, 05 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
What the Classroom Didn't Teach Me About the US Empire

Howard Zinn. (Photo: Marc Dalio)Howard Zinn. (Photo: Marc Dalio)

With an occupying army waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan, with military bases and corporate bullying in every part of the world, there is hardly a question any more of the existence of an American Empire. Indeed, the once fervent denials have turned into a boastful, unashamed embrace of the idea.

However, the very idea that the United States was an empire did not occur to me until after I finished my work as a bombardier with the Eighth Air Force in the Second World War, and came home. Even as I began to have second thoughts about the purity of the "Good War," even after being horrified by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even after rethinking my own bombing of towns in Europe, I still did not put all that together in the context of an American "Empire."

I was conscious, like everyone, of the British Empire and the other imperial powers of Europe, but the United States was not seen in the same way. When, after the war, I went to college under the G.I. Bill of Rights and took courses in US history, I usually found a chapter in the history texts called "The Age of Imperialism." It invariably referred to the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the conquest of the Philippines that followed. It seemed that American imperialism lasted only a relatively few years. There was no overarching view of US expansion that might lead to the idea of a more far-ranging empire - or period of "imperialism."

I recall the classroom map (labeled "Western Expansion") which presented the march across the continent as a natural, almost biological phenomenon. That huge acquisition of land called "The Louisiana Purchase" hinted at nothing but vacant land acquired. There was no sense that this territory had been occupied by hundreds of Indian tribes which would have to be annihilated or forced from their homes - what we now call "ethnic cleansing" - so that whites could settle the land, and later railroads could crisscross it, presaging "civilization" and its brutal discontents.

Neither the discussions of "Jacksonian democracy" in history courses, nor the popular book by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., The Age of Jackson, told me about the "Trail of Tears," the deadly forced march of "the five civilized tribes" westward from Georgia and Alabama across the Mississippi, leaving 4,000 dead in their wake. No treatment of the Civil War mentioned the Sand Creek massacre of hundreds of Indian villagers in Colorado just as "emancipation" was proclaimed for black people by Lincoln's administration.

That classroom map also had a section to the south and west labeled "Mexican Cession." This was a handy euphemism for the aggressive war against Mexico in 1846 in which the United States seized half of that country's land, giving us California and the great Southwest. The term "Manifest Destiny," used at that time, soon of course became more universal. On the eve of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Washington Post saw beyond Cuba: "We are face to face with a strange destiny. The taste of Empire is in the mouth of the people even as the taste of blood in the jungle."

The violent march across the continent, and even the invasion of Cuba, appeared to be within a natural sphere of US interest. After all, hadn't the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 declared the Western Hemisphere to be under our protection? But with hardly a pause after Cuba came the invasion of the Philippines, halfway around the world. The word "imperialism" now seemed a fitting one for US actions. Indeed, that long, cruel war - treated quickly and superficially in the history books - gave rise to an Anti-Imperialist League, in which William James and Mark Twain were leading figures. But this was not something I learned in university either.

The "Sole Superpower" Comes Into View

Reading outside the classroom, however, I began to fit the pieces of history into a larger mosaic. What at first had seemed like a purely passive foreign policy in the decade leading up to the First World War now appeared as a succession of violent interventions: the seizure of the Panama Canal zone from Colombia, a naval bombardment of the Mexican coast, the dispatch of the Marines to almost every country in Central America, occupying armies sent to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. As the much-decorated General Smedley Butler, who participated in many of those interventions, wrote later: "I was an errand boy for Wall Street."

At the very time I was learning this history - the years after World War II - the United States was becoming not just another imperial power, but the world's leading superpower. Determined to maintain and expand its monopoly on nuclear weapons, it was taking over remote islands in the Pacific, forcing the inhabitants to leave, and turning the islands into deadly playgrounds for more atomic tests.

In his memoir, No Place to Hide, Dr. David Bradley, who monitored radiation in those tests, described what was left behind as the testing teams went home: "[R]adioactivity, contamination, the wrecked island of Bikini and its sad-eyed patient exiles." The tests in the Pacific were followed, over the years, by more tests in the deserts of Utah and Nevada, more than a thousand tests in all.

When the war in Korea began in 1950, I was still studying history as a graduate student at Columbia University. Nothing in my classes prepared me to understand American policy in Asia. But I was reading I. F. Stone's Weekly. Stone was among the very few journalists who questioned the official justification for sending an army to Korea. It seemed clear to me then that it was not the invasion of South Korea by the North that prompted US intervention, but the desire of the United States to have a firm foothold on the continent of Asia, especially now that the Communists were in power in China.

Years later, as the covert intervention in Vietnam grew into a massive and brutal military operation, the imperial designs of the United States became yet clearer to me. In 1967, I wrote a little book called Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal. By that time I was heavily involved in the movement against the war.

When I read the hundreds of pages of the Pentagon Papers entrusted to me by Daniel Ellsberg, what jumped out at me were the secret memos from the National Security Council. Explaining the US interest in Southeast Asia, they spoke bluntly of the country's motives as a quest for "tin, rubber, oil."

Neither the desertions of soldiers in the Mexican War, nor the draft riots of the Civil War, not the anti-imperialist groups at the turn of the century, nor the strong opposition to World War I - indeed no antiwar movement in the history of the nation reached the scale of the opposition to the war in Vietnam. At least part of that opposition rested on an understanding that more than Vietnam was at stake, that the brutal war in that tiny country was part of a grander imperial design.

Various interventions following the US defeat in Vietnam seemed to reflect the desperate need of the still-reigning superpower - even after the fall of its powerful rival, the Soviet Union - to establish its dominance everywhere. Hence the invasion of Grenada in 1982, the bombing assault on Panama in 1989, the first Gulf war of 1991. Was George Bush Sr. heartsick over Saddam Hussein's seizure of Kuwait, or was he using that event as an opportunity to move US power firmly into the coveted oil region of the Middle East? Given the history of the United States, given its obsession with Middle Eastern oil dating from Franklin Roosevelt's 1945 deal with King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, and the CIA's overthrow of the democratic Mossadeq government in Iran in 1953, it is not hard to decide that question.

Justifying Empire

The ruthless attacks of September 11th (as the official 9/11 Commission acknowledged) derived from fierce hatred of US expansion in the Middle East and elsewhere. Even before that event, the Defense Department acknowledged, according to Chalmers Johnson's book The Sorrows of Empire, the existence of more than 700 American military bases outside of the United States.

Since that date, with the initiation of a "war on terrorism," many more bases have been established or expanded: in Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, the desert of Qatar, the Gulf of Oman, the Horn of Africa, and wherever else a compliant nation could be bribed or coerced.

When I was bombing cities in Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and France in the Second World War, the moral justification was so simple and clear as to be beyond discussion: We were saving the world from the evil of fascism. I was therefore startled to hear from a gunner on another crew - what we had in common was that we both read books - that he considered this "an imperialist war." Both sides, he said, were motivated by ambitions of control and conquest. We argued without resolving the issue. Ironically, tragically, not long after our discussion, this fellow was shot down and killed on a mission.

In wars, there is always a difference between the motives of the soldiers and the motives of the political leaders who send them into battle. My motive, like that of so many, was innocent of imperial ambition. It was to help defeat fascism and create a more decent world, free of aggression, militarism, and racism.

The motive of the US establishment, understood by the aerial gunner I knew, was of a different nature. It was described early in 1941 by Henry Luce, multi-millionaire owner of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines, as the coming of "The American Century." The time had arrived, he said, for the United States "to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit, and by such means as we see fit."

We can hardly ask for a more candid, blunter declaration of imperial design. It has been echoed in recent years by the intellectual handmaidens of the Bush administration, but with assurances that the motive of this "influence" is benign, that the "purposes" - whether in Luce's formulation or more recent ones - are noble, that this is an "imperialism lite." As George Bush said in his second inaugural address: "Spreading liberty around the world is the calling of our time." The New York Times called that speech "striking for its idealism."

The American Empire has always been a bipartisan project - Democrats and Republicans have taken turns extending it, extolling it, justifying it. President Woodrow Wilson told graduates of the Naval Academy in 1914 (the year he bombarded Mexico) that the US used "her navy and her army... as the instruments of civilization, not as the instruments of aggression." And Bill Clinton, in 1992, told West Point graduates: "The values you learned here will be able to spread throughout the country and throughout the world."

For the people of the United States, and indeed for people all over the world, those claims sooner or later are revealed to be false. The rhetoric, often persuasive on first hearing, soon becomes overwhelmed by horrors that can no longer be concealed: the bloody corpses of Iraq, the torn limbs of American GIs, the millions of families driven from their homes - in the Middle East and in the Mississippi Delta.

Have not the justifications for empire, embedded in our culture, assaulting our good sense - that war is necessary for security, that expansion is fundamental to civilization - begun to lose their hold on our minds? Have we reached a point in history where we are ready to embrace a new way of living in the world, expanding not our military power, but our humanity?

Opinion Mon, 05 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400