Truthout Stories Sun, 29 Mar 2015 06:46:52 -0400 en-gb The Yemen Crisis: Could Domestic Conflict Grow Into Protracted Regional War?

As Saudi Arabia and Egypt threaten to send ground troops into Yemen, we look at the roots of the crisis. While many analysts have described the fighting as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, journalist Iona Craig says the fighting stems from a domestic conflict. "People try to frame this as an Iran versus Saudi kind of battle, which it has now become. But it is very much because of domestic politics," explains Iona Craig, who recently spent four years reporting from Sana'a. We also speak to Brian Whitaker, former Middle East editor at The Guardian, about the decades-old history of Saudi intervention in Yemen.


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

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Yemen and the Saudi-led bombing campaign, we're joined by two guests in London. Iona Craig is back with us, journalist who was based in Sana'a for four years as Yemen correspondent for The Times of London, awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2014. And Brian Whitaker is with us, former Middle East editor for The Guardian. He now runs the website, which covers Arab politics and society, where he wrote a new report on "Yemen and Saudi Arabia: A Historical Review of Relations."

Brian, let's begin with you. Can you lay that relationship out? The significance of Saudi Arabia now bombing Yemen with the U.S. supporting Saudi Arabia?

BRIAN WHITAKER: Well, it's a long and complicated relationship, really. You know, we have—Saudi Arabia is a rich, conservative monarchy, and on the other side, we have Yemen, which is very populous, it's very poor, and it's republican. And those two are separated by a border of about 1,500 miles, which is very difficult to police. I think, generally, among the Gulf monarchies, there's a certain level of apprehension about Yemen, partly because it's not like them.

And if we look at their relations with Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia was created as a state in 1932; within two years of that, there was a war between the Saudis and the Yemenis, which resulted in the—Yemen ceding some ethnically Yemeni territory to Saudi Arabia. And as part of that deal also, Yemenis were allowed to work in Saudi Arabia on quite generous terms, and that led to large numbers of Yemenis working in the kingdom and sending remittances back to Yemen. That was quite a rocky relationship, as well, because in the early 1990s, when the Saudis didn't much like Yemen's attitude to Saddam Hussein, several hundred thousand Yemeni workers were expelled from the kingdom.

We also had the North Yemeni Civil War in the 1960s, where we saw the Saudis intervening on behalf of the royalists, and the Egyptians intervening on behalf the republicans. So that was a military struggle. And then, in the mid-1990s when North and South Yemen became—have become unified, but then a war broke out between the North and the South. The Saudis were supporting the southern separatists.

And, of course, most recently, in 2009, when the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was having one of his six wars against the Houthis, the Saudis joined in then with a bombing campaign to help. So, there's a long history, and also there's a long history, apart from military things, of Saudi involvement in Yemeni politics, which has often taken the form of payments to tribes, politicians and so on—you know, the sort of things other people would probably call bribes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, in effect, then, the Yemenis have functioned almost as a reserve labor force for Saudi Arabia? You were mentioning it. They also function that way for other states in the region? And also, you mentioned there were—the unification of Yemen. But for a time, there was actually—wasn't there a left-wing government in South Yemen?

BRIAN WHITAKER: Indeed. The only Arab Marxist government was in the South, and that disappeared in 1990 when North and South became unified. Then, the southerners had second thoughts about it, and a war broke out in 2004, which lasted a few weeks. And so, basically, the Saudis were, at that stage, supporting the—as they were then, the ex-Marxists who had ruled the South. So it's a curious relationship because, at some time or other, the Saudis have supported most of the different factions within Yemen.

AMY GOODMAN: Iona Craig, what do you feel is most important to understand right now? And can you talk about the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting that took place yesterday, a kind of Sunni meeting?

IONA CRAIG: Well, I think at the moment in Yemen, you have to realize that the situation has got to where it is now largely because of domestic politics, as well. People try and frame this as an Iran-versus-Saudi kind of battle, which it has now become, but it's very much because of domestic politics. And the reason the Houthis have been able to get to where they are today is very much because of the support of Yemen's former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. He has been plotting this for some time, certainly, you know, at least since 2012, 2013. And although they're old enemies, they are now supporting each other in this battle. So, this came about, really, because Saleh was granted immunity by the GCC in the deal that he signed at the end of 2011. And these are the very same people that are now bombing him today, so there's quite a deep irony in the situation that's going on right now. And although Saleh hasn't been doing that overtly, it was clear and very evident to me when I was on the ground in September, when the Houthis took Sana'a, that those men that were in plainclothes with Houthi stickers on their Kalashnikovs were in fact the Republican Guard. They were saying it openly, and people recognized them as former Republican Guard soldiers who were under the command of Ahmed Ali, Ali Abdullah Saleh's son. So I think you have to be—you know, it has to be quite clear that although you talk about the Houthis being supported by Iran, they're actually, on the ground, being supported by Ali Abdullah Saleh much more than there is any evidence that they're being supported by Iran at the moment.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Iona Craig, as the civil strife in Yemen grows, do you have any sense of what's going on with the jihadi forces within Yemen, and obviously, the United States' big concern, the drone strikes that have repeatedly been targeted within Yemen by the United States?

IONA CRAIG: Well, I think the issue now is the counterterrorism policy for the U.S. has pretty much vanished, in the sense that the National Security Bureau, that was really set up by the Americans, the Yemeni intelligence agency, in order to gather human intelligence to counter al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is now the hands of the Houthis. In addition to that, the counterterrorism troops that were being trained by the Americans, that all stopped last Friday when the Americans finally left. And now the Saudis, backed by America, are bombing military bases across the country. So, it's certainly feasible that amongst all of that the counterterrorism troops are going to be impacted by that.

Now, as far as what the jihadist groups' reaction is to—for al-Qaeda, certainly, you know, for them, they're going to be able to take advantage of this kind of mess that's going on in Yemen, whether that means being able to take weapons as military bases are vacated, knowing that they're going to be hit—if the Houthis haven't already taken those weapons themselves. But it is going to be an opportunity for them, particularly as it's going to polarize the society within Yemen itself. This sectarian element will become, you know, a self-fulfilling prophecy, and therefore that will, almost inevitably, in some way, drive some people into the hands of al-Qaeda. Even if they're not before, they may find themselves fighting on the same side of al-Qaeda in order to defend themselves and their territory.

AMY GOODMAN: This issue of the U.S. role with Iran in all the different places now—working with Iran, if you will, in Iraq, although they kind of deny this; working against Iran in Yemen right now; and negotiating with Iran around a nuclear deal—Brian Whitaker, can you talk about the significance of this?

BRIAN WHITAKER: Well, obviously, there are quite a few ironies in that situation. The latest I've seen today, though, is that Iran doesn't seem particularly interested in getting more deeply involved in Yemen at the moment. And that might be quite a smart move. I think the Americans would also be probably leaning on them not to step things up in Yemen, in order to secure the nuclear deal. I think that—for the Americans, I think the nuclear deal is probably the priority at the moment.

AMY GOODMAN: At this point, Iona Craig, what do you feel needs to happen? You know, we have President Obama famously recently saying that Yemen is the one major success story in the war against terrorism. What do you think, as you listen to a man I'm sure you know well, Farea Al-Muslimi, on the ground in Sana'a under the bombardment, saying, "What our country needs is investment in the economy, is education, is not more bombs"?

IONA CRAIG: I mean, certainly, most immediately, is some sort of political settlement to get out of this current crisis. But by pushing the Houthis this far, by deciding to bomb Yemen, I don't think—the indication from the Houthis at the moment is they are not prepared to back down, which means more bombing and the possibility of even ground troops. The Houthis, you know, have been fighting in Yemen for over 10 years now. And I think the real risk is, if ground troops are involved, that this could be a very protracted and long, borne-out conflict, which is going to impact Yemenis massively.

You know, what Farea was saying was really depressing, but absolutely true. The economy has all but collapsed. The government—not that there is one, really, but there isn't the finances to prop up the civil service indefinitely, and not even for many more weeks. You've got 16 million people in need of humanitarian aid, and that was before this conflict started. So, I think for Yemenis on the ground at the moment, there is this real risk for them that this becomes a long, drawn-out process, where the Saudis are saying it will be a few days of aerial bombardment in order to reduce the military power of the Houthis. But they know this territory. They've been fighting in Yemen, in the highlands in Yemen, for 10 years. If the Saudis or the Egyptians decide to take them on on the ground, this could be a very long process.

AMY GOODMAN: Iona Craig, we want to thank you for being with us, journalist based in Sana'a for four years as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London, just recently awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. Brian Whitaker, thanks so much for being with us, former Middle East editor for The Guardian, now runs the website We'll link to that. It covers Arab politics and society. Wrote the new report, "Yemen and Saudi Arabia: A Historical Review of Relations." This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

News Fri, 27 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Yemen Does Not Need Another War: Report From Sana'a as Saudi Attack Enters Second Day

A Saudi-led aerial bombing campaign has entered its second day in Yemen. The Saudi-led airstrikes are intended to thwart the advance of Shiite Houthi rebels after they seized control of the capital Sana'a last year and deposed President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi last month. On Thursday, Hadi left his refuge in Aden for Saudi Arabia. At least 39 civilians have reportedly been killed so far in the airstrikes. Amnesty International reports the dead include at least six children under the age of 10. Saudi's bombing campaign has been backed by the United States, Gulf states, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and Sudan. We go to Sana'a to speak with Farea Al-Muslimi, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Middle East Center. He recently tweeted: "I'm a 25 year old Yemeni man. I've seen at least 15 wars in my country. I don't need more. I need some help and education & economy; not guns."


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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Yemen, where a Saudi-led aerial bombing campaign has entered its second day. Saudi Arabia has targeted Houthi Shiite rebels and has been backed by the United States, Gulf states, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and Sudan. The Saudi-led airstrikes are intended to thwart the Houthis' advance after they seized control of the capital Sana'a last year and deposed President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi last month. On Thursday, Hadi left his refuge in Aden for Saudi Arabia. At least 39 civilians have reportedly been killed so far in the airstrikes. Amnesty International reports the dead include at least six children under the age of 10. Many analysts fear the Yemen crisis could escalate into an all-out proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which has backed the Houthis. Iran denounced the Saudi-led assault as an attempt to, quote, "foment civil war in Yemen or disintegrate the country."

AMY GOODMAN: Saudi Arabia has reportedly mobilized 150,000 troops near the border. Egypt is saying it's also prepared to send ground troops into Yemen if necessary. The United States has aided the bombing campaign by creating a joint planning cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support. Arab foreign ministers, meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Thursday, endorsed the idea of forming a unified Arab military force.

We go directly to Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, to speak with Farea Al-Muslimi. He is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Middle East Center. He's based in Sana'a. He recently wrote an op-ed headlined "Welcome to Yemen, Where Only Violence is a Certainty." He last joined us in 2013 when he was in the United States to testify before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the U.S. secret drone program. And if you want to know what's going on in Yemen, just follow his tweets.

I want to welcome you to Democracy Now!, Farea Al-Muslimi. Talk about what's happening on the ground now in the capital.

FAREA AL-MUSLIMI: Thanks, Amy. It's good to be back with you. Sana'a right now has witnessed over the last few days multiple airstrikes led by Saudi Arabia in a big, longer plan version—new military operation called the Decisive Storm, which is backed by Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries and other regional countries. This comes in response to the Houthis' full seizing of power in the capital of Yemen. And since last week, the political crisis in the country has entered a new dangerous level, when the Yemen air force, under the Houthi, controlling the capital, struck the presidential palace in Aden, where fled President Hadi was living. And I think, by that point, it was the time when the Gulf and the region decided to interfere. Currently, there has been multiple civic casualties of these strikes, but most of the times they are also strikes targeting military bases around the country, which are under the loyalty of either former President Saleh or the Houthis, who are accused by the regional and internationals of cooperating in this full military coup. Obviously, this comes after four years of a poorly learned political solution in Yemen, known as the Yemen model, which was backed by the United Nations and clearly ended up creating more violence than peace in Yemen.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about this issue of all of these outside powers trying to effect deals or arrangements for the internal strife within the country?

FAREA AL-MUSLIMI: Say that again, please?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I said, what about this issue of all of these outside countries—the United States, the U.N., Saudi Arabia—attempting to negotiate deals for how Yemen should be run?

FAREA AL-MUSLIMI: I mean, obviously, this is an outcome of the way that the specific model that was enforced by these countries for the last four years have ended up failing. That's one part. But the new part in this is this has been now shifted from a political model, that was a massive story about how political transition should run, into a model of direct front lines for a regional obvious war between Saudi Arabia and the Iranians. Obviously, this is—this is, I think, a new regional order, you can now say, called the Decisive Storm. It's getting more than—bigger—more than just about Yemen. And it's being a new card being played by the regional states in the negotiation of the Iranian nuclear fire, obviously using Yemen as a fuel for a struggle that has nothing to do with the Yemenis.

AMY GOODMAN: Farea, you tweeted, "I'm a 25 years old #Yemen-i man. I v sen at least 15 wars n my country. I don't need more. I need some help n education & economy ; not guns." Another tweet: "I sadly can promise you that the sir strikes cost tonight could have saved Yemen from this years ago if if was put into its economy." Talk about the situation now in Sana'a, the bombardment that you and other Yemenis are going through, and this connection that you're describing.

FAREA AL-MUSLIMI: Obviously, Yemen has gone through a lot of conflicts in the past. And what I was trying to say in this specific tweet, probably, is that the last thing Yemen needs at the moment is an intensive military intervention in a country that is already loaded with so much conflict and over the last three years has gone through even more conflicts because of how this was run. And, obviously, this is important because even when Yemen was being promising a state, according to the Yemen model, it was not backed up with an economic Marshall Plan. The commitment to Yemen's stability was always reactive, based on fear from al-Qaeda, which obviously has ended up in creating more violence than stopping violence.

There is a huge problem in Yemen. We have more than half of the population right now under huge—for need of humanitarian assistance. The economy is literally dead. Life has been like that. The services are bad. The already low level of low, poor services that existed are even now harder to have, like electricity, water, and basically security and safety.

So far, right now, there is a matter of—there is a problem of a slow inversion or a slow take of Yemen into a new Libyan version that will not ultimately create peace in Yemen. And, obviously, a military solution, we have tried that so many times in Yemen, and it did not win. The military—the wars happened in Sa'ada with six wars, and then in the south, and then many wars with al-Qaeda. Obviously, there is a problem with this way of handling political problems in the region.

In fact, if there is a—if there had been enough economic support, I think we could have already—you know, we could have stayed away from this chaos, how things had led to. And most importantly is, if there is a will to commit to Yemen's stability and peace, there is a deep need to show that in an economic plan. Make Yemen part of the GCC. Give it easier for Yemeni youth to get jobs in the Gulf. A security solution have approved itself in a country like Yemen many times wrong and have counterproductive, and will always remain like that if you do not solve the roots of the problems. And the current way how things are run is obviously going anywhere but toward peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Farea Al-Muslimi, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Farea Al-Muslimi is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Middle East Center. He is speaking to us from Sana'a, Yemen. We will link to his op-ed, "Welcome to Yemen, Where Only Violence is a Certainty." And we hope you'll join us in the days to come to continue to report on your country.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we go to London. We will be speaking with Iona Craig, a journalist who was based in Sana'a for four years, and also we'll be joined by Brian Whitaker, former Middle East editor for The Guardian. This is Democracy Now! We'll be back in a moment.

News Fri, 27 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Why Is Climate Denier David Koch on the Board of Top Science Museums? Letter Urges Cutting of Ties

The nation's top museums are facing calls to cut ties with billionaire funders who profit from global warming. In an open letter, a coalition of climate scientists, museum experts and environmental groups says science and natural history museums should stop accepting money from fossil fuel corporations and individual donors like the Koch brothers. Koch Industries has extensive energy industry holdings and has funded climate denial. David Koch is a board member of both the American Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. One of the most controversial exhibits is a Koch-backed installation at the Smithsonian that promotes the theory that humankind evolved in response to climate change. The letter is the creation of a different kind of museum — the new, mobile Natural History Museum, which seeks to "highlight the socio-political forces that shape nature." We are joined by Beka Economopoulos, co-founder and director of the new Natural History Museum, who coordinated the letter to 330 science and natural history museums, and by James Powell, one of the scientists who signed the open letter. Powell is a geochemist, former president of the Franklin Institute and former president and director of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We end today's show with a look at how the nation's top museums are facing calls to cut ties with billionaire funders who profit from global warming. In an open letter, a coalition of climate scientists, museum experts and environmental groups say science and natural history museums should stop accepting money from fossil fuel corporations and individual donors like the Koch brothers. Koch Industries has extensive energy industry holdings and has funded climate denial. David Koch is a board member of both the American Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. One of the most controversial exhibits is a Koch-backed installation at the Smithsonian which promotes the theory that humankind evolved in response to climate change.

The letter sent Tuesday is the creation of a different kind of museum, the new mobile Natural History Museum, which seeks to, quote, "highlight the socio-political forces that shape nature" and "affirm the truth of science." The letter reads, quote, "When some of the biggest contributors to climate change and funders of misinformation on climate science sponsor exhibitions in museums of science and natural history, they undermine public confidence in the validity of the institutions responsible for transmitting scientific knowledge. This corporate philanthropy comes at too high a cost," the letter says.

Well, for more, we're joined by two guests. Beka Economopoulos is a co-founder and director of the new mobile Natural History Museum and coordinated the letter sent from Nobel laureates and other scientists to 330 science and natural history museums. And in Santa Barbara, California, James Powell is with us, one of the scientists who signed the open letter. He is a geochemist, former president of the Franklin Institute and a former president and director of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. His new book is called Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth. We invited the American Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History to join us, but they have not responded.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! James Powell, let's begin with you. Why did you sign this letter?

JAMES POWELL: Well, thank you very much, Amy. It's good to be with you. I signed the letter because I feel very strongly that the most fundamental obligation of science museums is to get the science right. And when you have on your board someone who has gotten the science wrong and who is a billionaire and is sitting at the table when trustee decisions are made, you at least give the appearance that your exhibit might be tainted and might not be giving the best science. And, in fact, with the Smithsonian exhibit that you talked about, I think that's not just an appearance, but it's actually the reality—the notion that we can evolve our way out of global warming. I like to say my grandchildren are already here; they're present on the planet. They're not going to evolve by the time they're my age. What is going to happen is that the world is going to be a much more dangerous place.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you were at the—you served at the—what was it? The Los Angeles County Natural History—the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. You were director of it.


AMY GOODMAN: Museums need money. What do you tell fellow directors around the country?

JAMES POWELL: Well, that's right. We are in a real bind. Museums do not have much money of their own. If we want to build a major exhibit, it's going to cost millions of dollars. We have to secure that money from gifts, from someone. However, I think you have to build a firewall between the donor and the construction and ideas that go into the exhibit. And I take the Smithsonian's word that they did that. However, if you have a major science denier, not just someone who denies it personally, but who is funding denialism with tens of millions of dollars, you don't have to have that person sitting at the table with the exhibit designers. It is known what that person thinks. It is known what their beliefs are. So I think if you back it all the way back, you would say you shouldn't have such a person. You shouldn't have a science denier on the board of a science museum. It's a contradiction in terms, and you're just going to get in trouble, so find the money somewhere else.

AMY GOODMAN: Beka Economopoulos, talk about the group of people who have signed this letter and why you got involved.

BEKA ECONOMOPOULOS: It's a tremendous list of dozens of the world's most prominent scientists, including several Nobel laureates who have signed this letter. We initiated it as the Natural History Museum, our own Natural History Museum that just launched this fall, because we were very concerned that energy companies and the Koch brothers gain social license and cultural capital from an association with these scientific institutions, while they bankroll climate science disinformation and efforts to block action on climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: So what are you doing now?

BEKA ECONOMOPOULOS: So we're calling on the museum sector—in particular, museums of science and natural history—to cut ties to the fossil fuel industry. That means, one, dismiss climate deniers and oil billionaires from your boards; two, cancel fossil fuel industry sponsorships; and, three, divest from your financial holdings in the fossil fuel industry.

AMY GOODMAN: And what has been the response of museums?

BEKA ECONOMOPOULOS: So far, no comment from the largest museums that we've called out for having David Koch on their board. However, we'll say that there's been a lot of traction within the overall museum sector. The American Alliance of Museums, which is a consortium of all the country's—or most of the country's museums, has blogged about this. We're going to be joining their convention in a few weeks' time. It's the world's largest museum convention. We'll be exhibiting as the Natural History Museum. And we invite museum professionals who are sympathetic to this effort to get in touch with us. We'd love to hear from you, especially if you work at the New York and D.C. natural history museums.

AMY GOODMAN: Why target museums?

BEKA ECONOMOPOULOS: You know, there are more museums in the United States than Starbucks and McDonald's combined. The museum sector represents vital societal infrastructure. They are so relevant for conveying information, for educating the youth and the public. And people have a tremendous amount of faith in the validity of these institutions. And when museums accept these contributions, it undermines the trust that the public place in them. And that, in turn, undermines a trust and faith in science, in general. And so, you know, museums hedge to this notion of authoritative neutrality, as if neutrality were even a thing. Howard Zinn said you can't be neutral on a moving train. So, fossil fuel companies are driving this train off the end of the Earth. And we don't have the luxury of time here, so we're asking museums to, yes, to take a stand, absolutely, to re-evaluate their roles in a time of profound environmental disruption and climate crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: James Powell, it's not only talking about not having fossil fuel industry fund exhibits, but also calling for these large institutions to divest. There's a student divestment movement across the country getting institutions to—their educational institutions to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Can you comment on it in the museum world?

JAMES POWELL: Yes, I can. And I was also a college president during the debates over divestment from South African-related stock. If you own stock in a company, you do that because you believe that company is going to succeed, and you're going to make a profit. You are then a partner with that company. And the way the fossil fuel companies make profits is if they sell more fossil fuels, which produces more carbon dioxide, which makes the train move a little faster, to use Beka's analogy. So, I'm a very strong believer that colleges, universities and museums should not be invested in fossil fuel companies. It's not even a good investment, if you look at the future, because the reserves of these companies, which are a major part of their valuation, at some point we're going to decide these can't come out of the ground, they have to stay there. And if those companies have not adapted by going to some other form of renewable energy, then—

AMY GOODMAN: James Powell, I want to thank you for being with us.


AMY GOODMAN: We have to end it there—former president of Reed College and Franklin & Marshall and former president of the Franklin Institute and former director of the Los Angeles County Museum—Natural History Museum. And thank you so much to Beka Economopoulos.

BEKA ECONOMOPOULOS: And please, folks, go to

JAMES POWELL: Thank you. Thank you.

News Fri, 27 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
How Much Is Your Arm Worth? Depends on Where You Work

At the time of their accidents, Jeremy Lewis was 27, Josh Potter 25.

The men lived within 75 miles of each other. Both were married with two children about the same age. Both even had tattoos of their children’s names.

Their injuries, suffered on the job at Southern industrial plants, were remarkably similar, too. Each man lost a portion of his left arm in a machinery accident.

After that, though, their paths couldn’t have diverged more sharply: Lewis received just $45,000 in workers’ compensation for the loss of his arm. Potter was awarded benefits that could surpass $740,000 over his lifetime.

The reason: Lewis lived and worked in Alabama, which has the nation’s lowest workers’ comp benefits for amputations. Potter had the comparative good fortune of losing his arm across the border in Georgia, which is far more generous when it comes to such catastrophic injuries.

This disparity grimly illustrates the geographic lottery that governs compensation for workplace injuries in America. Congress allows each state to determine its own benefits, with no federal minimums, so workers who live across state lines from each other can experience entirely different outcomes for identical injuries.

Nearly every state has what’s known as a “schedule of benefits” that divides up the body like an Angus beef chart.

Workers are awarded a portion of their wages up to the state maximum for the specified number of weeks assigned to each body part. But depending on those numbers, the final amounts can vary widely.

The loss of an arm, for example, is worth up to $48,840 in Alabama, $193,950 in Ohio and $439,858 in Illinois. The big toe ranges from $6,090 in California to $90,401.88 in Oregon. Some states even put a value on the loss of a testicle.

While these benefit tables are just one part of a larger workers’ comp system, they provide a vivid picture of the wildly divergent, sometimes nonsensical patchwork of laws that enrages employers and employees alike.

“What’s the difference? You lose your leg, it don’t matter where you lose it,” said Eric Bennett, whose insurer says he’s only entitled to the Alabama max of $44,000 for the leg he lost at a fertilizer mill. “It should be the same. A leg is a leg.”

The calculus of such losses can be dehumanizing. One worker at a Jasper, Alabama, sawmill lost her thumb and every finger save her pinkie when her hand was dragged through the rusty gears of a scrap wood conveyor. But instead of paying the larger sum for her entire hand, the mill’s insurer has offered her only the benefits for each individual finger.

Given their profound impact on people’s lives, how much compensation workers get for traumatic injuries seems like it would be the product of years of study, combining medical wisdom and economic analysis. But in reality, the amounts are often the result of political expediency, sometimes based on bargains struck decades ago.

Such decisions are part of greater rollback in protections for injured workers nationwide. Over the past decade, a ProPublica and NPR investigation found, state after state has slashed workers’ comp benefits, driven by calls from employers and insurers to lower costs.

In fact, employers are now paying the lowest rates for workers’ comp than at any time since the 1970s. Nonetheless, dozens of legislatures have changed their workers’ comp laws, often citing the need to compete with neighboring states and be more attractive to business.

The changes have forced injured workers’ families and taxpayers “to subsidize the vast majority of the lost income and medical care costs generated by these conditions,” the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said in a report issued Wednesday that echoed several of ProPublica and NPR’s findings.

Alabama’s amputation benefit, long among the nation’s stingiest, sent Lewis into just the kind of downward spiral workers’ comp was intended to prevent.

“I mean, I done lost everything I owned,” said Lewis. “I lost my house, three brand new vehicles. There wasn’t no way that that amount of money was going to replace what I’d lost.”

After foreclosure, Lewis and his family moved from their three-bedroom stucco home in a new development in Albertville to a rundown single-wide trailer on the outskirts of town.

On the other side of the Alabama-Georgia border, Potter has been able to maintain some semblance of his former life.

The Georgia maximum for a lost arm is $118,125, more than double that of Alabama. More importantly, workers who lose a limb in Georgia are entitled to two-thirds of their wages until they return to work or, if they can’t, for as long as they live.

While Potter’s hardly getting rich off workers’ comp, the $285 a week he receives has prevented his family from going under.

“I’m lucky,” he said, upon hearing what happened to Lewis. “As of right now, we’ve lost one vehicle and one’s falling apart. But we’re making it work. I can’t imagine if I had to go through what he has went through.”

Origin in Hammurabi’s Code

The idea of assigning a value to the loss of a body part dates back to Mesopotamia. Around 2100 B.C., King Ur-Nammu of Ur decreed that a man should pay a certain amount of silver for causing the loss of a foot (10 shekels) or a smashed limb (one mina).

The same concepts run through the better-known Code of Hammurabi and on throughout history.

When the first workers’ comp laws were adopted in America in the early 1900s, legislators inserted similar language as a way of bringing some uniformity to the uniquely harrowing circumstances of individual injuries.

Typically, under workers’ comp, employers are required to buy insurance that covers medical bills and part of workers’ wages until they’re able return to work, a benefit called “temporary total disability.” For the most severe injuries, after which people can no longer work, the insurance covers ongoing lost wages under a benefit called “permanent total disability.”

In between is a large gray area known as “permanent partial disability,” where workers are deemed able to work in some capacity but have suffered serious injuries that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

Outside of medical costs, permanent partial disability is the most expensive and therefore most controversial part of workers’ comp. Nearly 40 percent of injured workers with lost-time claims receive “permanent partial” benefits, according to the National Academy of Social Insurance, a nonpartisan organization that studies programs such as Social Security, unemployment insurance and workers’ comp.

The benefits are meant to compensate workers for their loss of function as well as for future lost wages, but economists have found they don’t come close, falling short even in states far more generous than Alabama.

A 2004 study by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Michigan, noted that 10 years after their injuries, workers awarded permanent partial benefits had lost about 55 percent to 70 percent of their earnings.

In part, this reflects that many workers who receive benefits for partial disabilities under workers’ comp never return to work. Some, like Lewis, are eventually deemed permanently disabled by the Social Security Administration and receive monthly checks from the federal government.

A Bargaining Chip

One of the things that makes Alabama’s approach to permanent partial disability benefits so perplexing is that almost everyone seems to agree that it’s unfair.

The amount of lost wages covered — capped at $220 a week — was set by the legislature in 1985. But unlike other parts of Alabama’s workers’ comp law, it was never tied to inflation.

The amount is now the lowest in the country. Providing just $11,440 a year, it is below the poverty line for a single person and not even half the poverty line for a family of four. And benefits for arm amputations, for example, end after four years.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Sister Lynn McKenzie, a Catholic nun who used to be a workers’ comp attorney and state mediator. “There’s no way you can feed a family on that, much less have a roof over your head.”

Even the head of the Alabama Defense Lawyers Association — a group that typically represents big employers and insurance companies — agrees.

“It’s an injustice what they’re doing,” said Dudley Motlow. “It’s just too low. How much money do you have to make to be considered poor folks in this country?”

Until the last decade, lawyers for injured workers used various loopholes to get courts to consider extenuating circumstances and obtain higher benefits. But since 2002, the Alabama Supreme Court and the Court of Civil Appeals have made it increasingly difficult for workers with traumatic limb injuries to get anything more than what’s outlined in the schedule of benefits.

Judges in many states can take into account a worker’s age or education when determining compensation for such injuries. Not in Alabama. There, a worker with a crushed hand who’s only done manual labor his entire life — and may be permanently out of work — receives no more compensation than a worker whose hand is less important to his job.

“What you’re doing is saying, ‘We don’t give a damn if you’re a brain surgeon or a hobo on the side of the railroad tracks — you’re going to get the same amount of money,’ ” Motlow said.

Some Alabama judges have decried the state’s paltry remedy for life-altering injuries, even as they’ve acknowledged there’s little they can do about it.

“The trial courts of Alabama see these workers leave our courtrooms week after week, without the ability to support themselves or their families, because of their on-the-job permanent injuries,” wrote Judge J. Scott Vowell of the Jefferson County Circuit Court in Birmingham in a lengthy 2008 ruling. “They leave our courthouses with relatively small ‘lump sum’ checks in their pockets and after that is spent for their necessities, who knows or cares what becomes of them?”

Vowell called the $220 cap “manifestly inadequate,” but said it was up to legislators, not courts, to fix it, though he noted that injured workers “have no effective lobbying group to speak for them.”

“Perhaps,” he wrote, “if the public were made aware of the unfairness of the present system, reform could be accomplished.”

But Vowell’s call has gone unheeded by Democratic and Republican political leaders alike.

Attempts to raise the cap have been met with demands from the business community to reduce benefits elsewhere. Employers complain that Alabama’s workers’ comp system covers certain medical costs more generously than other states and guarantees lifetime benefits to workers deemed permanently and totally disabled even if they live to 100.

Lifetime benefits remain the norm in the vast majority of the country, but several states, including Florida and North Carolina, have passed laws in recent years cutting off workers’ comp benefits at or near retirement age. Others, such as Mississippi, have long limited permanently disabled workers to no more than nine years of benefits.

“I could give you a list of some other things that in Alabama are unfair to the employer,” said Charles Carr, whose firm Carr Allison represents Walmart, Tyson Foods and Liberty Mutual Insurance, among others. “I say that what we should do is we should fix both sides of those inequities.”

Carr contends that increasing one workers’ comp benefit without addressing others would make doing business in Alabama more expensive than in other states in the Southeast.

“This state has got to remain competitive,” said Carr, who is also executive director of the Alabama Self-Insurers Association, a group of companies large enough to pay their own claims without buying policies from insurance companies. “We’re not going to be able to attract industry if our overall workers’ compensation costs are out of control.”

Currently, Alabama’s average premium costs rank in the middle of the pack, workers’ comp data shows. Arkansas and Mississippi are cheaper, while Louisiana and South Carolina are more expensive. Georgia’s rate is about the same.

The only way to fix the problem, Carr said, is to get all the special interest groups to stop fighting. He called on Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley to form a “blue-ribbon” committee made up of representatives for workers, employers and the medical community to come up with a compromise.

But McKenzie said the notion that injured workers should have to give something up to raise the $220 cap is “fixing it on the backs of those who are hurt the most.”

“That’s what I think is morally wrong.”

A Tale of Two Arms

The aroma of fried chicken drifts from the Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant on the shores of Lake Guntersville. Day and night, trucks rumble in and out of the front gates through white wisps of smoke that emanate from the plant.

Lewis got his start there in 1999, when it was still owned by Gold Kist, following the path of his mother, who worked there as a meat grader for 32 years.

“If you weren’t working there, you pretty much weren’t making any money,” Lewis said, referring to the region’s limited job opportunities.

Before his injury, Lewis earned an average of $870 a week including overtime. His wife also worked at the plant, and their combined income supported a middle-class home and life for them and their two children.

Lewis worked at the feed mill next to the processing plant, loading trucks with chicken feed for the company’s various poultry farms nearby. Corn and soybeans would pour out of the towering concrete silos through a downspout, and run along a conveyor, known as a chain auger, to be made into feed.

One of Lewis’ main jobs was to make sure the corn and soybeans didn’t clog the spout and stop production. When that happened, Lewis had to use a long metal rod to try to unjam it.

The day after Thanksgiving in 2006, Lewis was at the tail end of a 20-hour day that started at 3 a.m. and kept going when another worker called in sick. He’d been jabbing at a clog for about 25 minutes around 10:30 p.m., he said, when he decided to do what he and others usually did when clogs were really tough: He climbed up on the chain augers to get a better angle.

But this time, he said, one of the metal covers on the auger hadn’t been bolted down. His boot slipped, and Lewis fell hands first into the auger.

He hung there about 4 to 5 feet off the ground, he said, until the auger tore his left arm off and he came crashing down in the mud.

The emergency medical technician told him that he would likely bleed to death before they reached the hospital. Lewis survived, but his arm had to be amputated first below his elbow and later two inches above due to infections.

At first, Gold Kist refused to pay workers’ comp, claiming that methamphetamine use caused the accident. Lewis denied the accusation and a judge quickly dismissed the company’s argument, saying it had failed to present enough evidence to even bring the allegation to trial.

Lewis was awarded temporary wage-replacement benefits while he was out of work and coverage for two prosthetic arms — a standard one with a metal hook and an advanced one with an electronic hand that could be controlled with the remaining muscles in his amputated arm.

After nearly a year of recovery, Lewis’ doctors said his condition had stabilized, and he went back to work in a light-duty job. The assignment didn’t last long, though, and Lewis soon found himself back out at the feed mill.

Meanwhile, the dispute over the permanent partial disability benefits to compensate him for the loss of his arm dragged on. Gold Kist was acquired by Pilgrim’s Pride, which filed for bankruptcy a couple of years later. Pilgrim’s Pride then sold a majority stake to a Brazilian meat company as part of its plan to exit bankruptcy. This delayed Lewis’ case.

Pilgrim’s Pride did not respond to numerous requests for comment, and the attorney who handled the claim for the company said he couldn’t discuss it without his client’s permission.

Back at the feed mill, Lewis said, he did a series of jobs with one arm — pulling ropes, climbing ladders and turning a heavy wheel to control the flow of chicken feed. One day in March 2009, Lewis lost control of this wheel and the force tore the rotator cuff in his right shoulder.

Lewis filed a second workers’ comp claim for the new injury, even as he awaited payment for his first.

Finally, in March 2013 — six-and-a-half years after his injury — the claim for his arm was settled. A doctor determined he had lost 95 percent of his arm, which under the law is worth 211 weeks of pay at $220 per week, or $46,420. Tired of waiting, Lewis decided to take the money upfront and agreed to a lump sum payment of $45,000. Minus attorney’s fees and costs, he was left with roughly $33,500, about nine months’ salary.

Five months later, the company settled the claim for his torn rotator cuff. Though that injury was far less significant, Alabama considers injuries to the shoulder as affecting the body as a whole. That meant Lewis could get out of the draconian benefit schedule and obtain higher compensation under a different part of the law. His settlement: $47,500.

“It blowed my mind,” said Lewis, now 35. “I mean, I got awarded more for a rotator cuff than I did losing a whole arm. It’s messed up.”

Lewis and his family now survive on his wife’s wages at Walmart and his monthly Social Security disability check.

‘Complete and Total Garbage’

About a month after Lewis’ case settled, less than 15 miles over the state line in the northwest Georgia town of LaFayette, Josh Potter was working at Unique Fabricating, an automotive supplier that made sound buffers and other insulation materials for the throng of foreign automakers that had come to the South.

Potter operated a die press, boxing up the parts it stamped out and pulling off the waste material. He was standing on a platform with a mat on it when he lost his balance and fell face first.

Instinctively, Potter put out his hands to catch his fall.

“I didn’t even realize my hand had went under the head of the machine,” he said.

The machine crushed his hand. There was nothing doctors could do but amputate it.

“It was like dust,” Potter said. “There was no fixing the bone.”

Unique Fabricating declined to comment; its insurer is paying Potter’s claim.

Like Lewis, Potter was fitted with two prostheses — a standard one with a hook and an advanced electronic one with a movable hand that makes him look sort of like Robocop.

While Georgia has cut benefits to less seriously disabled workers, it has created a designation called “catastrophic” for amputees like Potter and others who suffer devastating injuries. The state ensures these workers aren’t left without any income.

Before his injury, Potter was earning between $400 and $500 a week — about half of what Lewis was making. He and his family lived with his wife’s father, who was ill. They had plans to build a house on the property one day.

The accident caused them to shelve those plans for now and readjust their finances. With workers’ comp, they’re still able to cover their half of the mortgage and pay their bills. But with less money coming in, Potter’s wife can’t afford to miss a day at her convenience store job. And they can’t go on family outings to the zoo or amusement park anymore.

“It might just be $60 to $80,” Potter said. “But that’s a big thing for someone who’s low-income already. I’m not rich, but I don’t feel like I’m poor.”

After hearing what Lewis received in Alabama, Potter said, “I’m thankful for what I’ve got now."

“I mean, he lost a part of his life for a company, and they’re not even going to make it where he can live maybe not comfortably, but decent,” he said. “To me, that’s complete and total garbage.”

News Sat, 28 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
What Lies Behind the Recent Surge of Amazon Deforestation

After declining by more than 70 percent in recent years, deforestation in the Amazon is soaring. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, scientist Philip Fearnside explains what's driving the clearing of the Amazon and what needs to be done to once again bring deforestation under control.

Ecologist Philip Fearnside has lived and worked in the Brazilian Amazon for 30 years and is one of the foremost authorities on deforestation in the world's largest tropical forest. A professor at the National Institute for Research in the Amazon, Fearnside has focused his work on how to sustainably develop the Amazon in the face of enormous pressures to cut and clear the forest.

Fearnside is now watching with alarm as, after a decade of declining deforestation rates, the pace of cutting and forest clearing in the Amazon is on the rise again. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Fearnside

explains the factors behind the resurgence in deforestation, including a slowly improving global economy, rising commodity prices, and recently enacted Brazilian laws and policies that are encouraging the development of the Amazon. Fearnside warns that this great tropical forest will sustain even graver losses if Brazil's newly re-elected President Dilma Rousseff — who is backed by large landowners and agribusiness interests — doesn't change course.

Yale Environment 360: Deforestation is now rising dramatically in the Brazilian Amazon. When did this begin?

Philip Fearnside: Deforestation went up a bit — they call it the hiccup — in 2013, but now in just the past six months there has been an explosion. Deforestation, as measured from images taken by Brazil's DETER satellite system, far more than doubled from September 2014 through January 2015 over what it had been during those same months a year earlier.

The government hid these figures before the recent election. The August and September data would normally have been released in October [before the October 26th presidential election]. But they sat on the data, and it was not disclosed until the end of November. It's a scandal.

e360: This comes as a surprise to many observers who thought that Brazil had the deforestation problem under control. Rates of deforestation actually declined from 2004 until 2012. How do you account for these earlier declines?

Fearnside: The exchange rate with the Brazilian real hit a peak in 2002. From almost 4 reals to the dollar, it went all the way down to 1 ½, which means if you are exporting things like soybeans or beef, all your expenses are in reals and you get paid in dollars, and they are worth half as much in Brazil, so it's not nearly as profitable. At the same time, you had international commodity prices going down. The soybean peak was in 2003, it crashed in 2007, and beef prices were in a similar downward trajectory. Those two factors — the exchange rate and commodity prices — together explain basically all of the decrease in deforestation until 2008.

e360: What happened after 2008?

Fearnside: From 2008 to 2012, commodity prices recovered. The exchange rate didn't recover until the end of that period. But what changed in 2008 was a Central Bank resolution that ties financing for agriculture and ranching — to buy tractors and fertilizers and such — to having a clean record with the environment department, IBAMA. If you have cut the forest illegally and have an unpaid fine, you don't get financing. This blocking of credit is something with real teeth in it, and there are no appeals. It had a big effect, especially on the large landowners. So commodity prices recovered and yet deforestation still stayed low.

e360: So now deforestation rates are rising sharply. How do you explain this dramatic change?

Fearnside: One factor is the new Forest Code, which became law in 2012. It weakens critical environmental protections and also offers an amnesty for all those who violated environmental laws before 2008. So if you cleared illegally, you got away with it. And the expectation is that if you clear illegally now, sooner or later there will be another amnesty that will forgive your past crimes. On the other hand, if you actually obeyed the law, you lost money. So the incentives are very perverse.

Another thing is that the prices for soy and beef are now high, and the exchange rate has been going up in the past few months, making it more profitable. These are the big factors that are leading to more deforestation.

e360: How does commercial logging factor into the deforestation problem?

Fearnside: Timber extraction doesn't come up in the numbers as deforestation. It's not like clear-cutting in the northwestern U.S., where you cut all the trees and there is basically just bare ground left where there was forest. Here you just take out the most valuable timber and most of the trees are left standing. So the satellite will show it as forest. Nevertheless, it is very important for deforestation, because logging is one of the big sources of money that pays for the people who deforest. You're selling timber and using the income to clear forest for cattle pasture or plantations. To get the timber out, you also need to build temporary roads that facilitate the entry of people who clear the forest for farms. There are various ways that logging speeds up deforestation.

e360: How much illegal logging is going on?

Fearnside: A lot of the logging is illegal, there's no question. But even if you follow all the regulations to the letter and log legally, it's not sustainable, because of all sorts of loopholes that have been put into the regulations. Some companies are granted concessions on federal or state land. To qualify, loggers have to come up with a forest management plan. With forest management, the idea is that you divide up the forest into parcels and you take the big trees out of one parcel one year and out of another in another year. After thirty years you come back to the first parcel and the trees will have grown back and you take out the big ones — so that's the idea, you just keep on going round and round and this will be sustainable.

So theoretically, you are going to sit there for 30 years doing nothing, with no income before you harvest it again. But nobody is going to do that. Nothing obliges people to do this forever. So you say you've changed your mind, you've decided to clear it for pasture. Other people just sell the land off. Is it likely that the new owner is going to sit there for 30 years waiting for the new forest to grow back? It's just not going to happen. You have these loopholes that have been inserted in the law, so that all of the logging that is happening — on paper it is all sustainable, but in practice it really isn't.

e360: What impact has this kind of logging had on the forest?

Fearnside: For one thing, selective logging makes the forest much more vulnerable to forest fires, because there are all of those dead treetops drying out in the forest. People driving around with a bulldozer in the forest wind up killing many other trees. You've opened up the canopy, so you have more sunlight coming in, more wind coming in to the forest and drying things out. It makes it much more likely to catch fire, and sets a degradation cycle into motion that ends up destroying the forest after a while.

e360: Isn't global warming also contributing to the fire problem? Is fire something new in Amazonia?

Fearnside: Over the centuries, there have been occasional forest fires. Studies looking at charcoal in the soil have shown that there have been four mega forest fires in the past 2000 years, so it is more or less one every 500 years. But now fires are happening far more often, generally during big El Niño years. El Niño leads to drying, especially in the northern part of the Amazon. It happened in 1982, 1997, and 2006. We had destructive forest fires in the northern part of the Amazon.

Now we have another phenomenon that has increased even more quickly than El Niño — though El Niño has increased a lot — called the Atlantic Dipole. El Niño is caused by warming of the surface waters in the Pacific Ocean. The Atlantic Dipole is a warm patch of water in the tropical part of the North Atlantic. It results in drought and forest fires in the southwestern part of the Amazon, in Acre state and neighboring areas.

This happened in 2005, and then five years later again in 2010. You have water warming in this part of the Atlantic that has traditionally been [cooled] by a lot of dust in the air, much of it coming from the deserts in Africa and industrial pollution in Europe. The dust has functioned as a kind of shield — some of the radiation from the sun hits these dust particles instead of hitting the water. With global warming, you have more rain globally and that is cleaning the air of the dust, so more of the sun's energy is actually reaching the water and warming it up in that part of the Atlantic, and it leads to droughts in the western Amazon.

e360: The Amazon forest is said to create its own climate. Transpiration from the trees creates clouds, which in turn produce rain. What impact does cutting the forest have on rainfall?

Fearnside: You know, there is a big drought now in Sao Paulo. It's not something that you can conclusively pin on deforestation. But a lot of the water in Sao Paulo comes from the Amazon. It's water that has been recycled through the trees, so if you cut [the forest] down and turn it into a cattle pasture, that water isn't going to go to Sao Paulo anymore, it is going to flow straight into the Amazon River, [then] into the Atlantic. If you keep clearing the Amazon, you'll end up with there being a permanent drought, not just a one-year thing. You're not going to have that transport of water vapor to Sao Paulo. It will have a big impact all the way down to Argentina. Argentina is very worried about deforestation in the Amazon. There are also connections to North America and other parts of the world as well, so deforestation would have some effect on rainfall in North America in important agricultural areas in the Midwest, for example.

e360: Recently re-elected Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has pledged to push rural development. What impact might this agenda have on the Amazon forest?

Fearnside: You have the so-called PAC, the five-year plan for the acceleration of growth. Dilma is known as the mother of the PAC. It consists of a list of projects, building roads and dams and so on, projects that will lead to more deforestation.

The most dramatic case is the proposed BR 319 Highway, which would link Manaus in the center of the Amazon with the arc of deforestation in the south, where 80 percent of the deforestation has occurred, along the southern and eastern edges of the forest. If the actors in the arc of deforestation — companies, individuals — move out of that region into the rest of the forest, it changes everything. It isn't just that one road; a series of side roads that are planned will open up that big block of intact forest in the western Amazon. Once you build a road like that a lot of what happens is no longer under the government's control — people moving into the forest and so on. The government may go after them, but it usually ends up legalizing what has happened.

e360: So what needs to be done to bring deforestation under control?

Fearnside: Some effective measures include taxing land speculation, stopping subsidies and fiscal incentives for development that leads to deforestation, greatly reducing road building, and ending the practice of allowing pasture as an "improvement" for establishing land tenure. The government also needs to have much tighter controls on major development projects. And an important part of any solution is to pay rural populations a stipend for preserving forests and the ecosystem services they provide, like watershed functions and storing carbon. If the government doesn't start enacting some of these measures soon, the forests of Amazonia will be lost.

e360: Are you pessimistic?

Fearnside: It's very important not to get fatalistic about this. There is a tremendous tendency with the Amazon to say the problems are so great, the forest is going to be cut down no matter what you do, so you might as well worry about something else. That's a self-fulfilling prophecy if you believe it. The opposite is also true: If you say deforestation is down, nobody does anything either. So it's very important that you keep focused on the problem.

There are lots of groups working in Brazil putting pressure on the government to change course. Brazil is a very diverse place, including the Brazilian government. Even though most of what is going on is pushing for more deforestation, you have 39 different ministries and thousands of people in the government, and that includes many people who are very concerned about these things. So it's important not to become fatalistic.

News Fri, 27 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Sorry, Monsanto: The Science Is on Our Side, Not Yours

A few weeks ago, I spoke by phone with Cathleen Enright, executive vice president of the Biotech Industry Organization (BIO). (Long story).

During the course of our conversation, when we touched on the subject of the science behind the debate over whether or not GMOs are "safe" (me arguing that there's no scientific consensus) Enright said, "Then you must not believe in climate change, either." 

I glossed over that accusation, though it struck me as odd. And random. Until less than a week later, on March 9 (2015), an article appeared in the Guardian under this headline: "The anti-GM lobby appears to be taking a page out of the Climategate playbook."

That's when I realized what I should have known. Enright's comment wasn't random at all. It's just a new twist on an old talking point—from an industry on the verge of crumbling under the weight of an avalanche of new credible, scientific evidence exposing not only the dangers of GMO crops and the toxic chemicals used to grow them, but the extent to which both Monsanto and U.S. government agencies like the EPA, FDA and USDA have covered up those dangers. (Side note: Turns out the authors of the Guardian piece all have ties to, surprise, the biotech industry).

Here are just a few examples of the latest reports, articles and books exposing the dangers of GMOs, Big Ag's toxic chemicals and evidence of a decades-long cover-up to keep consumers in the dark.

  • New study: World Health Organization declares glyphosate a human carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) decision was reported in The Lancet Oncology, on Friday, March 20 (2015). Predictably, Monsanto went on the attack, demanding the study be retracted.
  • New study: Roundup causes antibiotic resistance in bacteria. In the first study of its kind, a research lead by a team from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand says that commonly used herbicides, including the world's most used herbicide Roundup, can cause bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics. Cause for concern? You bet, when nearly 2 million people die annually from antibiotic-resistant infections.  
  • New article: "GMO Science Deniers: Monsanto and the USDA," points out what we all learned in third-grade science (but what Monsanto and the USDA refuse to acknowledge): That plants evolve to adapt to their environment, with the stronger ones winning out. Hence the fact that over time, Monsanto's Roundup Ready crops have bred a new generation of superweeds. Yet, incredibly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) bought into Monsanto's anti-science claim that the continuous use of Roundup, over time, would not produce evolving Roundup-resistant weeds. Of course, that's exactly what's happened.
  • New book: Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public, exposes how the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) disregarded the warnings of its own scientists in order to foster the biotech industry's agenda. According to author Steven Druker, the FDA broke U.S. food safety laws when the agency made a blanket presumption that GE foods qualified to be categorized "Generally Recognized as Safe" (GRAS). And they did it in order to push GMOs into the market with no pre-market safety testing.
  • New book: Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA, written by a former (1979-2004) employee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), documents the EPA's "corruption and misuse of science and public trust." According to author E.G. Vallianatos, the EPA allowed our lands and waters to be poisoned with more toxic chemicals, including glyphosate, than ever, while turning a blind eye to the consequences.
  • New report: "Seedy Business: What Big Food is hiding with Its Slick PR Campaign on GMOs," exposes Big Food's long history of manipulating the media, policymakers and public opinion with $100-million worth of sleazy public relations tactics.

That's just a smattering of the latest science—from scientists who have nothing to gain and everything to lose, based on Monsanto's history of aggressively discrediting and scientist who dares to challenge GMOs—that should have every consumer in this country asking, "What's going on here?"

Of course the industry response to the latest accusations concerning both its products and its desperate attempt to keep consumers in the dark, has been the same old same old: deny, deny, deny. All the while pretending to be incredulous that anyone would question its motives. This from an industry that (among other crimes) for nearly 40 years, knowingly poisoned a community in Alabama by dumping millions of pounds of PCBs into open-pit landfills, according to 2002 article that said:

And thousands of pages of Monsanto documents—many emblazoned with warnings such as "CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy"—show that for decades, the corporate giant concealed what it did and what it knew.

One final comment on the climate-denier talking point. How ironic that Enright and the biotech industry would pretend to side with the scientists sounding the alarm on global warming—when the largest contributor to global warming is industrial agriculture, with its GMO monoculture crops. Anyone serious about global warming knows that our best hope is to ditch our chemical-intensive, soil-destroying industrial agriculture and replace it with organic, regenerative farming practices that restore the soil's ability to capture carbon.

That's a talking point we can all get behind.

Opinion Fri, 27 Mar 2015 10:41:42 -0400
Swarthmore Students Launch First Indefinite Occupation for Fossil Fuel Divestment

In 1630, aboard a creaky wooden ship bound for the coast of what would later be known as New England, English settler and future Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop gave an address to the vessel's weary passengers: "We must consider ourselves as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present support from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world."

Like most elite institutions, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania fashions itself as a sort of secular city upon a hill, just as Winthrop had imagined the Puritans' early tenure in the Americas — an example for the world of how best to merge moral and intellectual prescience. In Swarthmore's case, its self-image is geographically serendipitous: Parrish Hall, Swarthmore's picturesque administrative hub, sits atop a literal hill, just 20 minutes by train from nearby Philadelphia. Formed in 1864 by Hicksite Quakers seeking pacifist refuge from the Civil War, Swarthmore — in the years since its founding — has birthed generations of progressive organizers, from suffragette Alice Paul to young leaders in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s. This legacy has congealed into the college's institutional identity as a place that prides itself as an incubator for social change.

Last week, 44 students and alumni of Swarthmore continued that legacy, launching an occupation of Parrish's Finance and Investments Office to demand that the Board of Managers enter into good faith negotiations with students towards fossil fuel divestment. As sophomore and organizer Stephen O'Hanlon told me shortly after the sit-in began, "We have no plans to leave."

In the last several months, Swarthmore's campaign has made a considerable impact on campus. A petition drive this year garnered 61 percent of student body support and 1,100 signatures from alumni and faculty. "It's been a multi-month organizing effort that has involved building both popular support on campus among students and faculty and also with alumni," O'Hanlon explained Thursday night, adding that his group has "leverag[ed] that pressure at increasingly high levels over the last two months."

Walking around the occupation on its first day, it was clear that demonstrators are here to stay. A sign-in sheet, complete with 63 signatures, has been taped up on the wall, along with a schedule of the day's events. Calls have gone out on Twitter for outside supporters to phone orders for hungry protesters into the town of Swarthmore's lone pizza shop, Renato's. This weekend, the occupation hosted a screening of the 2004 film Iron Jawed Angels, about Alice Paul, a member of Swarthmore's class of 1905, and the fight for the 19th Amendment. As one organizer described the ongoing organizational system, "We've laid out paths and roles and decided on a basic structure of keeping a rotating base of 15 people here every night for the sit-in." By the end of Thursday, they had 28, many using their downtime to chip away at the week's homework assignments.

Lewis Fitzgerald-Holland, a lanky, redheaded freshman from Portland, Ore., is both part and product of recent organizing efforts. He first got involved in the campaign after attending the People's Climate March in New York City along with 200 classmates in September.

"For me, a lot of it comes from the fact that we are at an institution that calls itself progressive," he explained, "and all we're doing is telling them to live up to the values they claim that they have."

Of his political involvement prior to joining the divestment fight, Fitzgerald-Holland said he "was never really involved with campaigns, but made a point to go to all the protests." Swarthmore divestment organizers hosted an orientation training the week after the People's Climate March in an attempt to attract students like Fitzgerald-Holland, and bring them into the movement's fold as full-fledged organizers. It worked. This semester, he has joined the campaign's core, and corralled professors to publicly support divestment. For him and many of the campaign's other young organizers, trainings — on the functions of power and techniques of organizing — have been a crucial bridge between an interest in climate change and sitting in for divestment.

As I've written in the past, the fossil fuel divestment movement is something near and dear to my heart. In my freshman year at Swarthmore, I helped to co-found the campus's divestment campaign, Swarthmore Mountain Justice, which would become the first of hundreds nationwide. We took our name and inspiration from the communities we visited on a fall break trip to southern Appalachia, who were continuing the lineage of those that have resisted extractive industry in the mountains for generations. The tradition has continued in Swarthmore Mountain Justice to this day, with many of the campaign's core organizers periodically traveling back to Appalachia.

Miraculously, the now four-year old campaign at Swarthmore has outlived the dreaded four-year death knell of student organizing, often limited by the time of students' average undergraduate tenure. As it was in 2011, the answer to divestment is officially "no." The main difference in 2015, though, is that there is both a thriving, broad-based campus campaign, and a 400 campus-strong international movement saying "yes," mounting pressure on and off campus to fundamentally shift society's relationship to the fossil fuel industry. As evidenced by recent industry-fueled backlash to divestment, even coal, oil and natural gas executives seem to be taking notice.

Since the start of the sit-in, somewhat unexpected forms of support have poured in from different sectors of the campus and beyond: Media Services employees dropped off cookies to protesters, along with the college's Religious and Spiritual Life Advisor, Joyce Tompkins. One professor brought his dog through for moral support during a morning planning meeting, and Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the Wallace Global Fund and a leader in the push to involve the philanthropic world in divestment, answered the call for pizza with eight pies. According to Fitzgerald-Holland, the Outsiders Club, which organizes periodic camping and hiking trips, lent its stock of sleeping bags for protesters to sleep in at night.

Swarthmore's sit-in is the first indefinite occupation for the fossil fuel divestment movement, the kick-off to a wave of escalated actions taking place this spring at campuses from the University of California-Berkeley, to Harvard to Tulane University in New Orleans. The series of demonstrations is being planned by something known as the Escalation Core, a joint project of the Divestment Student Network and They are calling for administrations' cooperation on divestment, as well as for a commitment to reinvest funds in community-led alternative energy solutions "at the frontlines of poverty and pollution."

"It feels like my entire Swarthmore education has pushed me to think critically and act responsibly," said Abigail Frank, a senior and sit-in participant. "I've developed both of these skills here, and now I'm going to use them."

Swarthmore's reputation may now hinge on how it responds to students and the growing campus community calling for divestment. At this moment, as the climate crisis deepens, John Winthrop's warning against profit worship has seldom seemed more relevant. This spring, the eyes of the world will be on Swarthmore and other colleges as they are forced to answer a critical question from student organizers and their growing base of supporters: "Whose side are you on?"

News Fri, 27 Mar 2015 09:59:03 -0400
Military Strategy? Who Needs It? The Madness of Funding the Pentagon to "Cover the Globe"

President Obama and Senator John McCain, who have clashed on almost every conceivable issue, do agree on one thing: the Pentagon needs more money. Obama wants to raise the Pentagon's budget for fiscal year 2016 by $35 billion more than the caps that exist under current law allow. McCain wants to see Obama his $35 billion and raise him $17 billion more. Last week, the House and Senate Budget Committees attempted to meet Obama's demands by pressing to pour tens of billions of additional dollars into the uncapped supplemental war budget.

What will this new avalanche of cash be used for? A major ground war in Iraq? Bombing the Assad regime in Syria? A permanent troop presence in Afghanistan? More likely, the bulk of the funds will be wielded simply to take pressure off the Pentagon's base budget so it can continue to pay for staggeringly expensive projects like the F-35 combat aircraft and a new generation of ballistic missile submarines. Whether the enthusiastic budgeteers in the end succeed in this particular maneuver to create a massive Pentagon slush fund, the effort represents a troubling development for anyone who thinks that Pentagon spending is already out of hand.

Mind you, such funds would be added not just to a Pentagon budget already running at half-a-trillion dollars annually, but to the actual national security budget, which is undoubtedly close to twice that. It includes items like work on nuclear weapons tucked away at the Department of Energy, that Pentagon supplementary war budget, the black budget of the Intelligence Community, and war-related expenditures in the budgets of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security.

Despite the jaw-dropping resources available to the national security state, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Martin Dempsey recently claimed that, without significant additional infusions of cash, the U.S. military won't be able to "execute the strategy" with which it has been tasked. As it happens, Dempsey's remark unintentionally points the way to a dramatically different approach to what's still called "defense spending." Instead of seeking yet more of it, perhaps it's time for the Pentagon to abandon its costly and counterproductive military strategy of "covering the globe."

A Cold War Strategy for the Twenty-First Century

Even to begin discussing this subject means asking the obvious question: Does the U.S. military have a strategy worthy of the name? As President Dwight D. Eisenhower put it in his farewell address in 1961, defense requires a "balance between cost and hoped for advantage" and "between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable." Eisenhower conveniently omitted a third category: things that shouldn't have been done in the first place -- on his watch, for instance, the CIA's coups in Iran and Guatemala that overthrew democratic governments or, in our century, the Bush administration's invasion and occupation of Iraq. But Eisenhower's underlying point holds. Strategy involves making choices. Bottom line: current U.S. strategy fails this test abysmally.

Despite the obvious changes that have occurred globally since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military is still expected to be ready to go anywhere on Earth and fight any battle. The authors of the Pentagon's key 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), for instance, claimed that its supposedly "updated strategy" was focused on "twenty-first-century defense priorities." Self-congratulatory rhetoric aside, however, the document outlined an all-encompassing global military blueprint whose goals would have been familiar to any Cold War strategist of the latter half of the previous century. With an utter inability to focus, the QDR claimed that the U.S. military needed to be prepared to act in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, the Asia-Pacific, and Latin America. In addition, plans are now well underway to beef up the Pentagon's ability to project power into the melting Arctic as part of a global race for resources brewing there.

Being prepared to go to war on every continent but Antarctica means that significant reductions in the historically unprecedented, globe-spanning network of military bases Washington set up in the Cold War and after will be limited at best. Where changes happen, they will predictably be confined largely to smaller facilities rather than large operating bases. A planned pullout from three bases in the United Kingdom, for instance, will only mean sending most of the American personnel stationed on them to other British facilities. As the Associated Press noted recently, the Pentagon's base closures in Europe involve mostly "smaller bases that were remnants of the Cold War." While the U.S. lost almost all its bases in Iraq and has dismantled many of its bases in Afghanistan, the Pentagon's base structure in the Greater Middle East is still remarkably strong and its ability to maintain or expand the U.S. troop presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan shouldn't be underestimated. 

In addition to maintaining its huge network of formal bases, the Pentagon is also planning to increase what it calls its "rotational" presence: training missions, port visits, and military exercises. In these areas, if anything, its profile is expanding, not shrinking. U.S. Special Forces operatives were, for instance, deployed to 134 nations, or almost 70% of the countries in the world, in fiscal year 2014. So even as the size and shape of the American military footprint undergoes some alteration, the Pentagon's goal of global reach, of being at least theoretically more or less everywhere at once, is being maintained.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has stepped up its use of drones, Special Forces, and "train and equip" programs that create proxy armies to enforce Washington's wishes. In this way, it hopes to produce a new way of war designed to reduce the Pentagon's reliance on large boots-on-the-ground operations, without affecting its strategic stretch.

This approach is, however, looking increasingly dubious. Barely a decade into its drone wars, for example, it's already clear that a drone-heavy approach simply doesn't work as planned. As Andrew Cockburn notes in his invaluable new book, Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins, a study based on the U.S. military's own internal data found that targeted assassinations carried out by drones resulted in an increase in attacks on U.S. forces. As for the broader political backlash generated by such strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere, it's clear enough by now that they act as effective recruitment tools for terror organizations among a fearful and traumatized population livingunder their constant presence.

At a theoretical level, the drone may seem the perfect weapon for a country committed to "covering the globe" and quite literally waging war anywhere on the planet at any time. In reality, it seems to have the effect of spreading chaos and conflict, not snuffing it out. In addition, drones are only effective in places where neither air defenses nor air forces are available; that is, the backlands of the planet. Otherwise, as weapons, they are sitting ducks.

A Pentagon for All Seasons

Washington's strategy documents are filled with references to non-military approaches to security, but such polite rhetoric is belied in the real world by a striking over-investment in military capabilities at the expense of civilian institutions. The Pentagon budget is 12 times larger than the budgets for the State Department and the Agency for International Development combined. As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has noted, it takes roughly the same number of personnel to operate just one of the Navy's 11 aircraft carrier task forces as there are trained diplomats in the State Department. Not surprisingly, such an imbalance only increases the likelihood that, in the face of any crisis anywhere, diplomatic alternatives will take a back seat, while a military response will be the option of choice, in fact, the only serious option considered.

In the twenty-first century, with its core budget still at historically high levels, the Pentagon has also been expanding into areas like "security assistance" -- the arming, training, and equipping of foreign military and police forces. In the post-9/11 years, for instance, the Pentagon has developed a striking range of military and police aid programs of the kind that have traditionally been funded and overseen by the State Department. According to data provided by the Security Assistance Monitor, a project designed to systematically track U.S. military and police aid, the Pentagon now delivers arms and training through 18 separate programs that provide assistance to the vast majority of the world's armed forces.

Having so many ways to deliver aid is handy for the Pentagon, but a nightmare for members of Congress or the public trying to keep track of them all. Seven of the programs are new initiatives authorized last year alone. More than 160 nations, or 82% of all countries, now receive some form of arms and training from the United States.

In a similar fashion, in these years the Pentagon has moved with increasing aggressiveness into the field of humanitarian aid. In their new book Mission Creep, Gordon Adams and Shoon Murray describe the range of non-military activities it now routinely carries out. These include "drilling wells, building roads, constructing schools and clinics, advising national and local governments, and supplying mobile services of optometrists, dentists, doctors, and veterinarians overseas." The specific examples they cite underscore the point: "Army National Guardsmen drilling wells in Djibouti; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers building school houses in Azerbaijan; and U.S. Navy Seabees building a post-natal care facility in Cambodia."

If one were to choose a single phrase to explain why General Dempsey thinks the Pentagon is starved for funds, it would be "too many missions." No amount of funding could effectively deal with the almost endless shopping list of global challenges the U.S. military has mandated itself to address, most of which do not have military solutions in any case.

The answer is not more money (though that may not stop Congress and the president from dumping billions more into the Pentagon's slush fund). It's a far more realistic strategy -- or put another way, maybe it's a strategy of any sort in which the only operative word is not "more."

The Pentagon's promotion of an open-ended strategy isn't just a paper tiger of a problem. It has life-and-death consequences and monetary ones, too. When President Obama's critics urge him to bomb Syria, or put more ground troops in Iraq, or arm and train the security forces in Ukraine, they are fully in line with the Pentagon's expansive view of the military's role in the world, a role that would involve taxpayer dollars in even more staggering quantities.

Attempting to maintain a genuine global reach will, in the end, prove far more expensive than the wars the United States is currently fighting. This year's administration request for Iraq War 3.0 and Syria War 1.0, both against the Islamic State (IS), was a relatively modest $5.8 billion, or roughly 1% of the resources currently available to the Department of Defense. As yet not even John McCain is suggesting anything on the scale of the Bush administration's intervention in Iraq, which peaked at over 160,000 troops and cost significantly more than a trillion dollars. By comparison, the Obama administration's bombing campaign against IS, supplemented by the dispatch of roughly 3,000 troops, remains, as American operations of the twenty-first century go, a relatively modest undertaking -- at least by Pentagon standards. There are reasons to oppose U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria based on the likely outcomes, but so far intervention in those nations has not strained the Pentagon's massive budget.

As for Ukraine, even if the administration were to change course and decide to provide weapons to the government there, it would still not make a dent in its proposed $50 billion war budget, much less in the Pentagon's proposed $534 billion base budget.

Using the crises in Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria as arguments for pumping up Pentagon spending is a political tactic of the moment, not a strategic necessity. The only real reason to bust the present already expansive budget caps -- besides pleasing the arms industry and its allies in Congress -- is to attempt to entrench the sort of ad hoc military-first global policy being promoted as the American way for decades to come. Every crisis, every development not pleasing to Washington anywhere on Earth is, according to this school of thought, what the Pentagon must be "capable" of dealing with. What's needed, but completely dismissed in Washington, is of course a radical rethinking of American priorities. 

General Dempsey and his colleagues may be right. Current levels of Pentagon spending may not be able to support current defense strategy. The answer to this problem is right before our eyes: cut the money and change the strategy. That would be acting in the name of a conception of national security that was truly strategic.

Opinion Fri, 27 Mar 2015 09:53:00 -0400
Solar Energy Lights Up in Latin America

In the face of rising global temperatures, glacial retreat, and ocean acidification, sustainable development of renewable resources has become more important than ever before. The U.S. government's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) continues to report that within the past 12 years the globe has endured ten of the warmest years on record, and sea levels have risen an astounding 17 centimeters (or 6 and a half inches) within the past century.[i] However, recent advancements in solar energy could potentially lead to a solution that would feature the role of Latin American countries. According to GTM Research, a division of Greentech Media, the solar photovoltaic (PV) market in Latin America grew 370 percent in 2014, due to 625 megawatts (MW) worth of installations developed throughout the region during the year.[ii] In fact, with its 169 percent increase in solar energy between 2012 and 2014, Latin America is the "fastest-growing solar market in history."[iii] This rate even surpasses the entire European solar market growth rate of 60 percent between 2007 and 2011.[iv]

With 500 million people living in Latin America, energy requirements are at an all-time high. In the face of global warming, the region's countries have begun to look toward solar energy to improve energy security and environmental health. This turn toward solar energy is a good option for Latin American countries considering that a majority of the region falls along the equatorial line, giving it access to a great deal of the world's sunlight.[v] In 2013, GTM Research had predicted that the Latin American solar market could grow 66 percent annually. But with the 370 percent increase in 2014, it seems that the area can harvest even more solar energy than even experts previously expected. While countries like Chile, Mexico, and Brazil have become regional leaders in solar energy, they are not the only crucial players. Smaller countries, such as Uruguay, Peru, and Costa Rica, have also boasted notable rates in renewable energy.[vi] It is important to note, however, that Latin American countries will not be able to solely rely on solar energy just yet. In August 2012, some organizations that report on affairs in the Western Hemisphere, predicted that renewable energy would comprise less than five percent of the globe's energy mix in 2030, with solar energy making up only a small portion of this small percentage.[vii] This means that Latin American countries will still need to invest in building more solar power plants if they wish to meet growing energy needs.[viii]

But Why Solar Energy?

Solar energy is perhaps the most expeditious solution to help Latin America in its quest for energy security. The production of solar energy does not release the toxic pollutants or dangerous emissions that fuel global warming. Even the most intense of the major problems associated with solar energy are solvable.

A primary issue with solar power is that solar plants require large amounts of land space, and this can potentially hinder a nation's agricultural industries. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), however, aptly proposes that large solar plants be built in areas with poor soil, in order to limit their negative impact on Latin America's agricultural business and capitalize on their cooperate advantage.[ix] Furthermore, small solar power installations could be built on limited commercial and/or private building sites, further limiting the negative effect of solar energy plants on agricultural lands.[x]

A second major concern is the large quantity of water necessary for the cooling system process at solar plants. For example, in concentrating solar thermal plants (CSP's), up to 650 gallons of water can be used to produce merely one megawatt-hour of electricity, resulting in low efficiency rates.[xi] One solution to this issue, however, is dry-cooling, a technique that uses air instead of water to lower plant temperatures. This process can reduce the amount of water used by CSP's by up to 90 percent, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).[xii]

But other environmental concerns with potential solar energy usage can present difficulties. The greenhouse gases nitrogen trifluoride and sulfur hexafluoride are produced during the manufacturing of solar panels. These gases have an even greater negative impact on global climate change than carbon dioxide does.[xiii] Another serious issue with solar power is that access to sunlight is intermittent, since the sun is not always accessible. And the possible solution of making batteries for solar energy storage can be a costly venture. The mining of the metals needed to make batteries can also cause damage to the environment. An upside, however, is that there is a heavy correlation between the world's energy needs and sunlight, meaning sunlight is strongest at the same time of day when energy is most consumed.[xiv] While there may be manufacturing and storage issues associated with solar power, the repercussions of other renewable energy sources can have far greater consequences.

Hydroelectricity is presently Latin America's most important renewable energy source, but it has even more negative environmental effects than does solar energy. Blocking rivers can be environmentally damaging and can force populations into displacement. Additionally, hydro power plants make for poor water quality in the reservoirs constructed, especially because of stagnant water flow.[xv] Latin American countries that have the most invested in hydroelectricity, most notably Brazil and Ecuador, have learned the high environmental costs of doing so. [xvi]

In 2007, Brazil's hydro power plants were producing about 74 thousand MW of electricity, but this output represented only about a quarter of what the nation could have potentially derived from this source.[xvii] Unfortunately, realizing Brazil's full 2007 hydroelectric potential was only possible if dams and power plants were constructed in the Amazon basin.[xviii] The question of whether or not to exploit one of the most sensitive and diverse ecosystems in the world, with full knowledge of the difficulty in successfully sustaining hydro power plants, became paramount in the energy debate. The facilities require constant upgrades and modifications as water floods onto surrounding lowlands and greatly reduces the efficiency of the hydro plants over time. But despite this lack of effective sustainability, Brazil continued to launch and expand projects in the Amazon that threatened both riverside populations and the environment. By 2007, installments of hydro power plants in Brazil had led to the compulsory displacement of 200,000 riverside families and 34,000 square-kilometers (13, 128 square miles) of land flooding.[xix]

Similar issues have developed in Ecuador with the installment of hydro power plants. In 2010, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa (2007-present) signed a contract with Chinese representatives to begin the Coca-Codo Sinclair hydroelectric project. With completion scheduled for 2016, the hydro power plant is expected to have produced 3,000 direct jobs and 15,000 indirect jobs, while also cutting annual carbon dioxide emissions by about 4.5 million metric tons.[xx] These promised benefits, however, do in fact come at the price of environmental damage. Since the hydroelectric project will be built just 19 kilometers (12 miles) upstream from the San Rafael falls, the largest in all of Ecuador at 480 feet tall, it could dry out the falls as their water is redirected to the Coca-Codo plant for electricity generation.[xxi] In 2008, Ecuador became the first country to dedicate a Constitutional rights to environmental protection. However, it the country's efforts to discover a reliable and renewable energy source, Ecuador has violated its revolutionary protectionism. With its hydroelectric plants, the country has threatened the biospheres of the Andes Mountains and the Amazon which surround the San Rafael falls.[xxii] To environmentalists, the negative impact of the Coca-Codo Sinclair plant vastly outweigh the positive ones. Ecuador will never be able to recover its environmental wonders that will be destroyed by this hydroelectric project.

Although Latin American countries have relied upon hydroelectricity as a means for renewable energy, it may be time for a switch to solar energy. The environmental challenges of effectively sustaining hydro power plants are too great. Renewable energy should not come at a greater cost to global ecosystems and indigenous populations. And although the creation of solar power plants have negative byproducts, its benefits arguably outweigh those associated with hydroelectricity.

Solar Leaders

The movement towards solar energy is sweeping throughout Latin America. For example, the University of Panama, working with Greenwood Energy, a company that answers to growing energy needs throughout the Americas, has drawn plans to develop a 44 milliwatt (mW) project using a shared solar power purchase agreement (PPA).[xxiii] Meanwhile, Peru had built up over 60 MW worth of installations by 2012, and was planning two additional projects that would provide between 20 and 36 MW.[xxiv] Amidst trends of renewable energy, however, Chile, Mexico, and Brazil have stood out as primary leaders in solar energy production.

In 2014, out of the three leading solar countries, Chile made the most developments, with three-fourths of the total of Latin America's solar market increase (370 percent) powered by its facilities.[xxv] Within the fourth quarter of 2014 alone, Chile installed two times the amount of solar energy projects than all of Latin America's solar PV total from 2013.[xxvi] One reason for Chile's great success in solar energy lies in the fact that the country enjoys some of the world's highest direct radiance, making Chile one of the best long-term markets for solar energy investments. And more recently, Chile has been looking at a carbon tax in order to discourage the use of fossil fuels.[xxvii]

By 2014, Mexico had the second largest growth rate of Latin America's solar energy generation.[xxviii] Mexico's Federal Commission of Electricity (Comisión federal de electricidad or CFE), a state-owned electricity provider, launched two pilot projects: one 1 MW plant and one 5 MW plant.[xxix] Meanwhile the government has set a 2024 target for the country's renewable energy supply at 35 percent, while additionally considering the imposition of a carbon tax.[xxx] These two government actions have incentivized increased solar power plant installations and investments. In 2013, GTM Research had already reported that between the solar power created by Mexico and Chile alone, Latin America would see a 66 percent annual growth in solar energy production through 2017.

In third place for Latin America's largest growing solar energy production, is Brazil. In 2012, the nation's government implemented legislation needed to create net metering terms on energy to encourage its solar market. By 2014 each kilowatt-hour (kWh) of solar energy sold at a retail rate of 15 cents (USD).[xxxi] Brazil is the largest renewable energy market in Latin America when it comes to both capacity and investment, but the nation's energy market is plagued by interconnection issues. Still, solar energy developments and installations continue with the hope that interconnection issues be solved before the completion of the projects.

Encouraging More Growth in Latin America

Latin American countries have illustrated their potential in the solar energy market in recent years. With external aid, however, the region could further enhance its progress in reducing global warming emissions. Not only could foreign investment benefit Latin American countries by providing them with a secure energy source, but it would help the Western Hemisphere and the globe by reducing carbon emissions and slowing climate change. External aid can come in two forms: international alliances, which focus on environmental protection, and private company investments.

Alliances could enable actors in the Western Hemisphere to finally address issues of environmental protection. In June 2014, the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, issued a statement at the North American Energy Summit, honoring the role of the United States, Mexico and Canada in the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty intended to reduce nations' use of substances that deplete the ozone layer.[xxxii] These three North American nations have greatly contributed to the progress of renewable energy, with their Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) serving as another example of their efforts to reduce pollutants. Between September 2013 and August 2014, the CCAC undertook 11 different initiatives that focus on a diversity of topics from agriculture to public health. If more Latin American countries were to establish environmental alliance to combat the issue of climate change, then perhaps renewable energy efforts can progress further. If such alliances were to be made, however, it would be wise for the hemisphere's nations to focus on increasing solar energy developments in particular, especially since Latin America has exhibited promising growth rates in the field within recent years, and holds potential for further expansion.

Additionally, private company investments can partake in the expansion of the Latin American solar market. Many US-based companies, which commonly use Chinese manufacturers, are part of the reason why so many Latin American countries were able to increase their solar market potential in 2014. For example, the energy company, First Solar, helped to install 141 MW-worth of panels in Chile's San Andres solar plant, the largest solar plant in Latin America.[xxxiii] Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs encouraged U.S. exporters of clean energy technology to invest in Chile's solar market in 2014.[xxxiv] Such private company investments have many advantages: companies receive economic returns from their solar energy investments, Latin American countries are able to solidify a secure energy source, and the earth's environment benefits from decreased global warming emissions.

Regarding external aid in Latin America's solar markets, it is important to respect geo-political boundaries and relations. In 2013, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff stated her wish to designate a large portion of the country's economic development toward renewable energy, with solar energy included.[xxxv] Although alliances and investments from external nations in the Western Hemisphere and beyond may help further stimulate the solar market in Latin America, they should advance with respect for the economic interests of the host nations. In light of solar energy improvements, and in hopes for more constructive, inter-hemispheric aid in the solar sector, Latin America's progress for secure energy and the world's fight against climate change is looking bright.


[i] "Climate change: How do we know?" National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Accessed 9 February 2015,

[ii] Joshua Hill, "Latin America Solar Market Grew 370% in 2014," Clean Technica, 29 January 2015, Accessed 9 February 2015,

[iii] "Record-Breaking Solar Growth in Latin America Presents Massive Opportunities," Seeking Alpha, 30 January 2015, Accessed 9 February 2015,

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Camilo Patrignani, "Lessons in Solar Development for the Latin American Market,", 4 July 2014, Accessed 9 February 2015,

[vii] Roger Tissot, "Latin America's Energy Future," Inter-American Dialogue, August 2012, Accessed 4 March 2015,

[viii] "Renewables 2014: Global Status Report,"REN21, 2014, Accessed 4 March 2015,

[ix] "Environmental Impacts of Solar Power," Union of Concerned Scientists, 5 March 2013, Accessed 20 February 2015,

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] "Energy Analysis: Renewable Electricity Futures Study," National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Accessed 20 February 2015,

[xiii] Mathias Maehlum, "Solar Energy Pros and Cons," Energy Informative, 12 May 2014, Accessed 2 March 2015,

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Célio Bermann, "Impasses and controversies of hydroelectricity," Scientific Electronic Library Online, Accessed 20 February 2015,

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] "Coca Codo Sinclair Hydroelectric Project, Ecuador,", Accessed 20 February 2015,

[xxi] "Ecuador's most spectacular waterfall threatened by Chinese-funded hydroelectric project," International Rivers, Accessed 9 February 2015,

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Patrignani, "Lessons in Solar Development…"

[xxiv] Andrew Krulewitz, "Si Se Puede! Latin American Solar Markets Poised for Growth," Greentechsolar, 24 January 2013, Accessed 9 February 2015,

[xxv] Hill, "Latin America Solar Market…"

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Patrignani, "Lessons in Solar Development…" ; Krulewitz, "Si Se Puede!"

[xxviii] Hill, "Latin America Solar Market…"

[xxix] Krulewitz, "Si Se Puede!"

[xxx] Patrignani, "Lessons in Solar Development…"

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] John Kerry, "Statement for the North American Energy Summit," U.S. Department of State, 12 June 2014, Accessed 2 March 2015,

[xxxiii] "Record-Breaking Solar Growth…" Seeking Alpha.

[xxxiv] Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, "Direct Line: Clean Energy Opportunities in Chile," U.S. Department of State, 13 May 2014, Accessed 3 March 2015,

[xxxv] "Solar Energy in Latin America," University of Pittsburgh, 17 January 2013, Accessed 9 February 2015,

News Fri, 27 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Norway: The Two Faces of Extremism

With Anders Breivik has come the ominous knowledge that it takes only one jihadist - or counter-jihadist - to change everything, and that right-wing anti-immigration politics and jihadism are mutually reinforcing. "The relationship between the extremists is a symbiosis," said Shoaib Sultan, a Muslim politician and analyst of extremism.

At the entrance to the sealed government district, young women look at the flowers left in tribute to those killed and injured in an explosion on Friday in Oslo, Norway on Sunday, July 24, 2011. Anders Behring Breivik, the man charged with the attacks that killed at least 93 people in Norway, claims to have acted alone and has admitted "to the facts" of the case, the police said. (Johan Spanner/The New York Times)At the entrance to the sealed government district, young women look at the flowers left in tribute to those killed and injured in an explosion in Oslo, Norway on Sunday, July 24, 2011. Anders Behring Breivik, the man charged with the attacks that killed at least 93 people in Norway, claims to have acted alone and has admitted "to the facts" of the case, the police said. (Johan Spanner/The New York Times)

1. More Democracy, More Extremism?

Last summer, on the evening of Aug. 16, 2014, Norway's largest tabloid, Verdens Gang, posted on its website an extended videotaped interview with Ubaydullah Hussain, the spokesman of a small Islamist fringe group called the Prophet's Umma (umma refers to the community of believers in Islam). A 29-year-old Norwegian of Pakistani descent, Hussain grew up in a successful immigrant household in an Oslo suburb and had begun a promising career as a soccer referee in the Norwegian leagues - one newspaper described him as "bland and sociable." Around 2011, however, he began associating with radical Islamists and was later expelled from the sport for making extremist comments on social media. In the VG interview, appearing in a black skullcap and dark tunic with a Taliban-style beard, he declared his "absolute" support for ISIS and his belief that Norway should be governed by sharia law.

What made these comments particularly startling, however, was the way Hussain was able to frame them in reference to Norwegian concepts of political rights. Largely unchallenged by the VG journalist, he used the 43-minute interview to argue calmly against Western "propaganda" about the Islamic State and to assert the right of Norwegians to travel to Syria to join it. He also defended ISIS's practice of decapitating nonbelievers. "Beheading is not torture, people die instantly," he said, "as opposed to what the West does with Muslim prisoners." Three days later, on Aug. 19, ISIS announced the beheading of the American journalist James Foley.

Norway seems an unlikely place for Islamist extremism. Exceptionally wealthy, this small Nordic country has an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent and offers enviable welfare benefits to citizens and new immigrants alike. Though Muslims account for less than 5 percent of the country's 5 million citizens, there are both Shias and Sunnis, including sizable Pakistani and Somali communities, as well as smaller numbers with Iranian, Turkish and North African backgrounds. This diverse population is comparatively well integrated. Norway does not have radical mosques and several Muslims serve in Parliament. On the main street of Grønland, the central Oslo neighborhood that is the epicenter of the Muslim community, there are Islamic centers and halal butchers, but also an upscale bar serving high-end beer from a local brewery.

In recent months, however, European governments have become alarmed by the flow of more than 3,000 of their citizens to Syria to join jihadist groups there; and following the tragic Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris in early January, new questions have emerged about the ability of European nations to cope with terror threats from within their own populations. Norway has been no less affected than its neighbors. In the days since the Paris killings, some Norwegian commentators, including several Muslims, have defended Charlie Hebdo's right to publish offensive cartoons even if they find them distasteful. But in early February, security officials told the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet that as many as 150 Norwegians have joined jihadist groups in Syria, among them several teenage girls and a Prophet's Umma member now described as a senior lieutenant of ISIS; and in comments to the Norwegian press, Ubaydullah Hussain, the spokesman for the Prophet's Umma, said that, under sharia law, the death penalty is "entirely appropriate" for those who lampoon the Prophet.

Already in 2010, during an earlier demonstration against a Norwegian newspaper for publishing a Muhammad caricature, another Norwegian Islamist warned that it could bring about a "September 11 on Norwegian soil." This was followed, in 2012, by a letter sent by an anonymous Islamist group to then Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre demanding that the Grønland neighborhood in Oslo be turned into an "Islamic State." Last summer, the Norwegian government announced that it had uncovered a terrorist plot by "persons associated with an extremist group in Syria." And in November, in its latest threat assessment, the PST, Norway's domestic intelligence agency, put the likelihood of an extremist attack in the next 12 months at well over 50 percent. As the prominent Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad put it when I met her in Oslo in late August, "Is there something we are doing wrong?"

The question is particularly vexing for Norwegians because, amid the alleged threats from jihadists, their country has been recovering from an actual act of devastating terrorism - from an avowed enemy of Islam. The meticulously planned July 22, 2011, massacre by the ethnic Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik - the subject of Seierstad's chilling new book - was the worst mass killing in Norwegian history. First he set off a car bomb in front of the prime minister's office in Oslo, an explosion that killed eight people and left more than 200 people injured. (As with the Oklahoma City bombing, he had hoped to make the entire building collapse but was unable to park close enough.) He then proceeded to a summer youth camp run by the ruling and long-dominant Labor Party on the small island of Utøya, near the capital. Disguised as a PST officer, he methodically killed 69 more people with high-powered rifles - most of them teenagers, including a number with immigrant or refugee backgrounds.

In a 1,518-page manifesto released on the Internet hours before the attacks, Breivik made clear that one of his main preoccupations was the "Islamic colonization" of the country abetted by the Labor Party's "multiculturalist" immigration policies. In murdering so many children, he later explained, he aimed "to kill the party leaders of tomorrow." Shortly after his arrest he also told Norwegian police that "it's the media who are most to blame ... because they didn't publish my views." Yet his extraordinary violence also bore uncanny similarities to the Islamic extremism he purported to hate.

During his trial in 2012, Breivik revealed that his three principal targets at Utøya were Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norway's first female prime minister, who was on the island earlier that day; then Foreign Minister Støre, one of the country's most prominent advocates of pluralism and diversity, who visited a day earlier; and Labor youth leader Eskil Pedersen, who managed to flee shortly after Breivik arrived. Once the killer had captured them, he had planned to force the hostages down on their knees while he read a "judgment" against them; then he would decapitate each of them with a bayonet. All this would be filmed on his iPhone and posted on the Internet. "It is a strategy taken from al-Qaida," Breivik told the court, explaining that Christian Europe had had an earlier tradition of beheading. "It is a very potent psychological weapon."

It is hard to overstate the trauma caused by the July 22 attacks to Norway's political establishment. In a stirring speech three days after the massacre, Prime Minister Stoltenberg vowed to handle the crisis with frank discussion rather than a new security state. "We will not allow the fear of fear to silence us," he said. "More openness, more democracy ... . That is us. That is Norway." But in 2012 an official investigation found that the police and security forces' response during the attacks had been seriously flawed, and in September 2013, the Labor Party was voted out of office. It was replaced by the Conservative Party in coalition for the first time with the populist anti-immigration Progress Party - a party that Breivik belonged to in the early 2000s and that is known for, among other things, its warnings about "stealth Islamicization."

Even as the nation recoiled in horror from Breivik's atrocity, the Norwegian press began devoting increasing attention to the Prophet's Umma, though its few dozen followers make up a tiny fraction of the Muslim community. On the weekend that Ubaydullah Hussain's defense of beheadings was posted on VG's website last summer, one Norwegian activist told me, it was accessed more than 500,000 times, a number equal to roughly one-tenth of Norway's population.

On Aug. 25, incensed by the VG interview's recklessly misleading impression that most Norwegian Muslims support ISIS, a group of Muslim youth organized a large march against extremism from the Grønland neighborhood to Oslo's central square. When the marchers reached the steps of the Norwegian Parliament - many bearing signs that said "NO2ISIS" - a rare assemblage of government leaders came out to greet them: Norway's Conservative prime minister, Erna Solberg; the ministers of finance, justice and social affairs; the leaders of every major Norwegian party; and numerous members of Parliament. Along with several Muslim leaders and a 19-year-old Norwegian-Iraqi woman who helped instigate the protest, the prime minister herself gave a speech, as did Jonas Gahr Støre, who, as the new head of the Labor Party, was now the presumptive leader of the opposition.

As with the response to Breivik's Utøya massacre, this rousing demonstration of national unity seemed to evince the qualities that have made Norwegian social democracy so distinctive. Rather than calling for a crackdown on extremist groups, political leaders were joining with the Muslim community to show that Norwegians do not endorse the values of the Prophet's Umma; speech had been countered by more speech. Notwithstanding the legacy of Breivik, security was light, and during the speeches, I and other journalists mingled freely with government ministers on the steps of the Parliament. Above all, several Norwegian officials told me, was the fact that the march had been initiated by Muslims themselves.

Yet other tensions within the Muslim community seemed to be overlooked. A Norwegian Muslim journalist observed that the rally had been instigated by Shia activists and that their failure to highlight Shia extremism had turned off mainstream Sunnis. Meanwhile, Ubaydullah Hussain remained free to promote jihad and endorse attacks like the recent Paris killings.

Others wondered why it was so easy for government leaders to stand up against extremism, but so hard to ask whether their own policies might be contributing to it. Why were Muslim Norwegians going to Syria to fight in the first place? And why was no one talking about Breivik?

2. The Happy Moment

By almost any conventional measure, Norway is a blissful anomaly. According to the International Monetary Fund, the country's GDP per capita is now more than $100,000 - more than Qatar's and second only to tiny Luxembourg's; remarkably for an oil country, it also has low income inequality, thanks to a highly redistributive tax system. Norway is the most democratic country in the world, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's measure of 60 different political criteria, and it outperforms any other nation on measures of gender equality. Along with Solberg, the current prime minister, many of the most important cabinet members are women, including the ministers of finance, defense, trade, environment and social inclusion.

Nor does the country suffer from the urban malaise that plagues many of its neighbors. Its small population occupies one of the largest countries in Europe, and its uncrowded cities are known for their clean water and air. Despite vast oil resources, Norway gets 99 percent of its electricity from hydropower and produces so little waste that, along with Sweden, it has begun importing garbage from other countries to fuel its incinerators. Almost every child is educated through the public education system. Norwegian prisons are considered models of enlightened rehabilitation. And on measures of "social trust" - the degree to which people say they trust others and their governments - Norway routinely ranks first or second in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Since 2008, the tax returns of every citizen have been published in a searchable online database.

These remarkable achievements, however, belie a more complicated relationship to the outside world. With more than 100,000 kilometers of rugged coastline, Norwegians have a tradition of seafaring and exploration going back to the Viking age. Yet until oil was discovered in the second half of the 20th century, the country was very poor, with the result that there was a long tradition of emigration, while few foreigners came in. Even now, while Norway relies on tens of thousands of migrant laborers from other European countries, including Poland and the Baltic states, it has long been careful about accepting non-Europeans, who are admitted largely on humanitarian grounds and whose numbers the current administration has strictly limited. Thus while the Norwegian government sends more humanitarian aid abroad per capita than any country, it takes in far fewer asylum seekers than neighboring Sweden; last summer, the government rejected 123 Syrian refugees because they were deemed too burdensome for the Norwegian health system.

To a large degree, Norway's comprehensive approach to social democracy was built on the assumption of a small and cohesive native population. The most important parts of the welfare state - health insurance, child allowances, schooling, employment insurance, housing provisions - were put into effect between the late 1940s and the early 1960s when, as the immigration scholars Grete Brochmann and Anniken Hagelund observe, "practically no one came to Norway from outside northern Europe." Not coincidentally, some of the right-wing idealogues who influenced Breivik idealize this era as a time of national "purity" that ended when immigration began.

The lack of significant diversity in the postwar years also meant that there was a broad cultural and political consensus for the values endorsed by the state. During this "happy moment," the historian Francis Sejersted writes in his major study, "The Age of Social Democracy" (2011), the active promotion of individual rights did not seem to conflict with far-reaching government intervention in society. Since people generally wanted the same things, both projects could "mold" Norwegians into a strongly unified nation. With the arrival of immigrants from vastly different backgrounds, however, the assumption that Norwegian freedoms would produce Norwegian social democrats began to break down.

3. Cupcake Jihad

According to several researchers I met in Oslo, many of the current tensions surrounding immigration and Islam can be traced to political forces that emerged after September 11, 2001. Although fascism had a brief vogue in Norway in the 1930s and the collaborationist Quisling government ruled during the Nazi years, far-right ideology never attracted more than marginal interest in Norway. With the arrival of growing numbers of non-European refugees in the 1980s and 1990s, the anti-immigration Progress Party began to gain considerable support. But the party was mostly shunned by the political establishment, and the very few Norwegians who belonged to the hard right were closely monitored by the PST. "Right-wing extremism was our number one priority," a PST intelligence analyst told me. "Then 9/11 came along and our priorities shifted."

Following the revelation that Muslims living in Europe had planned the September 11 attacks, more overt opposition to Muslims and Islam began to enter mainstream Norwegian politics. Sometimes it came from the left, as secular feminists in particular criticized the practice of wearing headscarves and the perceived subjugation of Muslim women. In 2006, Norway's Labor government was rebuked by some commentators in the national press for not defending the republication of the Danish Muhammad cartoons. By 2009, a popular conservative Norwegian website called - to which Anders Breivik was an occasional contributor - was able to pressure Parliament to drop proposed new restrictions on hate speech, and the Progress Party, with its strident views on immigration and Islam, was attracting up to 30 percent of Norwegian voters in some polls.

Further to the right was a small but active online community of "counter-jihadists," hard-line anti-Islam commentators who supported the so-called Eurabia thesis - the theory that there was a conspiracy to Islamicize Europe. In the mid-2000s, Anders Breivik, by this point a failed entrepreneur who had given up on the Progress Party and was spending hours playing "World of Warcraft," became deeply influenced by these writers. Above all - as described by Aage Borchgrevink in "A Norwegian Tragedy" - he admired Fjordman, a mysterious Norwegian blogger who had written a book called "Defeating Eurabia." In real life, Fjordman turned out to be Peder Nøstvold Jensen, a young journalist from a leftist family who had studied in Cairo before becoming a prolific right-wing idealogue. As Fjordman, he argued that, even more than Islam itself, it was Norway's "cultural Marxist elites" who were the "enemy number one" because they "flooded our countries with enemies and forced us to live with them."

Amid the increasing hostility, meanwhile, many young second-generation Norwegian Muslims began taking a new interest in their religious identity and networking with Muslims elsewhere in Europe. The most striking result was the launch in 2008 of Islam Net, an online-based youth organization with an ultraconservative Salafist ideology - it sought to reinvigorate the Muslim community through such strictures as gender segregation and prayer and rigorous adherence to Islamic law.

Founded by a Norwegian engineering student of Pakistani background named Fahad Quereshi, Islam Net was soon attracting as many as several thousand people to its conferences - a remarkable number for a Salafist organization in a small Nordic country - to which it brought major Salafist clerics from Western Europe and the United States. "The preachers they started to invite were already famous on YouTube," Marius Linge, a Norwegian researcher of Islam who has made a detailed study of the group, told me. "These were the coolest guys around."

From the outset, Islam Net renounced violence, but the puritanical version of Islam it promoted - and its strong emphasis on proselytizing others - raised suspicions that it was providing a pathway to further radicalization. Some Islam Net members have gone on to join the far more extreme Prophet's Umma, which since its emergence in 2011 has followed Islam Net's emphasis on networking with like-minded Islamists on the Web; for example, the Prophet's Umma has joined in regular closed online meetings with Anjem Choudary, a silver-tongued British Islamist who is well known for his support for the Syrian jihad and for ISIS in particular.

Notably, Islam Net has also attracted many young women who have themselves taken the lead in adopting such practices as the niqab, or full head-covering. Hardly any Norwegian Muslims come from countries where the niqab is worn. But according to Linda Alzaghari, a Norwegian activist and Muslim convert who is the director of Minotenk, an Oslo think tank dealing with minority issues,

"the women are arguing this is a right. They are using Norwegian rights talk to uphold very conservative values. They took this feminist approach and just totally took over the issue. And now 50 to 100 women are wearing the niqab, young women who were born here. Some of them are in their late teens."

Several young Muslim women in Oslo told me that a women-only Facebook group affiliated with Islam Net has recently banned Shias. According to Alzaghari, by last summer a few women were openly supporting ISIS in the Muslim community, glorifying its fighters as standing up to the enemies of Islam, and trying to get other women involved. "Some of them are selling cupcakes, so we call it 'cupcake jihad,'" she said.

4. Generous Betrayal

On the afternoon of July 22, 2011, when the first horrific reports of Breivik's attacks reached the Norwegian public, many assumed they were carried out by Islamic extremists. When the killer turned out instead to be a "lone-wolf" Norwegian, there was a reluctance to go too far into his motives. "The debate about July 22 has been mostly about psychiatrists, not ideologists," said Shoaib Sultan, the former secretary general of the Islamic Council of Norway, who is now a researcher at the Norwegian Center Against Racism. "If 7/22 had been done by a Muslim guy, we would never have this prolonged discussion about his mental health." In 2012, following two separate psychological assessments, Breivik was ruled mentally capable and sentenced to 21 years in prison - the maximum allowed under Norwegian law.

Nor has there been much debate about the growing hostility to Muslims in Norway since Breivik's attack. Partly, this may be the result of the new jihadism that has emerged with the Syrian conflict, a jihadism that is seen as self-evidently objectionable. But some also see the blunt talk about Islam as an effect of former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg's call for more dialogue and openness. As the Norwegian social anthropologist Sindre Bangstad writes in a provocative recent book, "Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia," the theory is that, by being brought into the political process, the populist right wing has "impeded the growth of extreme right-wing movements." Bangstad himself is skeptical of this argument, observing that "populist right-wing rhetoric on Islam and Muslims in Norway ... has functioned as an amplifier, rather than merely a channel for anti-immigration and anti-Muslim views and sentiments."

Far more attention has been devoted to analogous forces playing out in the Muslim community. "Islam Net can be understood in two ways," Shoaib Sultan told me: "As a dam holding people back from joining something more extreme, by saying 'people who want real Islam can come to us'; or as a recruiting pool from which extremists like the Prophet's Umma can pull people. The debate isn't over." For all the scrutiny, however, the possibility that Salafist groups may be strengthened by anti-Muslim rhetoric on the right has yet to be addressed.

5. The Facebook Mujahideen

During nearly a month in Norway, I often found it difficult to reconcile the stories I heard about extremism - whether from the far right or from Islamists - with the congenial surroundings and the exceptionally articulate people I met. I visited a primary school in Oslo that had a population of 60 percent immigrants and 40 percent ethnic Norwegian children; it seemed to be as well if not better integrated than any school in a large American city. At the main campus of Oslo University, I found thoughtful, headscarf-wearing Muslim women especially well represented. One of the rising stars in the Labor Party is Hadia Tajik, a Pakistani Norwegian woman who held her first cabinet post at age 29 and is now, at 31, chair of the Justice Committee in the Norwegian Parliament. Sultan, who is 41 and also of Muslim Pakistani background, is running for mayor of Oslo.

But these successes seemed to be double-edged. A journalist of Muslim Iraqi background who had lived in Norway for decades, published frequent articles in the Norwegian press, and taught Norwegian to immigrants described to me how the "system" took excellent care of him, but the native population never made him feel he was included in their lives. In turn, several liberal Norwegians complained that Muslim families tended to shun state-funded day care, birthday parties and swim classes - in the process hindering their kids' ability to "fit in."

In a controversial book published shortly after September 11, 2001, the social anthropologist Unni Wikan described the problem of Norway's treatment of its new minorities as a "generous betrayal": social benefits and well-intended rhetoric about multiculturalism were serving as stand-ins for more meaningful integration, with the result that an "underclass" of immigrants had been created. In fact, for youth who are otherwise unable to succeed in Norwegian society, the welfare system itself may be facilitating their involvement in jihadist groups. "In a way, things here are too easy," Alzaghari, the Muslim activist, said. "These guys in the Prophet's Umma are supported on welfare."

Early last fall, a few weeks after Ubaydullah Hussain's interview in VG, I went to see Jonas Gahr Støre, the Labor Party leader, at his office at the Norwegian Parliament. I found him surprisingly candid about the challenges posed by both kinds of extremism to Norwegian democracy. "There are strong similarities between the July 22 attacks and Islamic radicalism," he said. Referring to Breivik's plot to behead him and the two other Labor leaders, he added: "It's part of the same link, spectacular violence linked to mass distribution on the Internet."

Støre believes that other Norwegians share some of Breivik's views: "Could it be that this man is alone in what he did, but not in what he thought? We know very clearly that he is not alone in harboring those opinions. We can almost hear it in the political debate." And yet he strongly resists any curbs on speech. "After the July 22 attacks," he said, "I think there is wide agreement in this country that one way of dealing with extremism is to shed light on it. Get it out of the dark corners."

In 2011, shortly before the Breivik attacks, a group of experts convened by the government issued a report on "Welfare and Migration," which concluded that parts of Norway's social model were poorly adapted to incoming foreigners. Støre argues the contrary: that Norway with its large size and small population is uniquely positioned to benefit from more immigration and that the state needs to "enlarge the 'we'" - embrace a more flexible view of Norwegian identity. But he too concedes that some welfare reform may be necessary.

For now, despite fears of new attacks, many Norwegians seem hopeful that the growing divisions can be overcome. For all its earlier rhetoric, the Progress Party has been rather moderate and sensible now that it has to govern with other parties; when I met Solveig Horne, Norway's minister of children, equality and social inclusion, who is a Progress Party member, she spoke openly about the problems of discrimination faced by minorities in the Norwegian job market. Meanwhile, amid growing fears about jihadists returning from Syria, officials believe that the flow of Norwegians into the conflict has slowed.

An early turning point may have been in November 2013, when Islam Net invited a well-known American-based Salafist cleric named Sheikh Yasin Khalid to speak in Oslo. In a dramatic sermon, Yasin Khalid made a blistering attack on efforts by jihadist groups to lure young Europeans to Syria. He suggested that those who were fighting lacked a true sense of Islam and called their recruiters a "Facebook Mujahideen." These men "didn't make Hajj, yet, but they want to make jihad," he said. In the months since, Islam Net has distanced itself from the Syrian jihad.

And yet with Breivik has come the ominous knowledge that it takes only one jihadist - or counter-jihadist - to change everything, and that right-wing anti-immigration politics and jihadism are mutually reinforcing. "The relationship between the extremists is a symbiosis," said Sultan, the Muslim politician and analyst of extremism. "The anti-Muslims actually need Muslim extremists to grow. For these people its vital to have someone like Ubaydullah Hussain, so they can say everyone is like that."

© 2015 The New York Review of Books
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

Opinion Fri, 27 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400