Truthout Stories Mon, 22 Sep 2014 06:29:31 -0400 en-gb Afghanistan Survival Skills

You can make a contribution to Truthout and get a copy of "No Good Men Among the Living: America, The Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes." Click here and order the book now.

(Image: Metropolitan Books)(Image: Metropolitan Books)Former US Army Ranger and conscientious objector Fanning reviews Anand Gopal's No Good Men Among the Living, a book that was recently be long-listed for the National Book Award and Truthout's Progressive pick of the week. 

It has been more than a decade since I trudged through the mountains of Afghanistan, and drove over the country's broken roads for the 2nd US Army Ranger battalion. I did two tours in the country. The first, in 2002, was willingly. The second, in 2004, was by force after declaring conscientious objector status. Leaving the Rangers as a CO was one of the most difficult challenges of my life. There are many reasons I left, some of which I am still coming to understand - Anand Gopal's book No Good Men Among the Living has helped me reconcile these reasons more than any of the many books I've read on Afghanistan. 

Gopal's book answers the questions that haunted me both during and after my tours: What were the women who would peek out from second floor windows in dusty clay homes feeling as we barreled down their streets in armored Humvees with 50-calibur machine guns at the ready? Were those who fired Cold War-era Russian rockets at our camps motivated by knowing we would respond in kind with 500-pound bombs dropped from jets? What went through the minds of Afghan men when we stormed into their homes, threw sandbags over their heads in night raids? Why did so many of our missions seem like we were little more than pawns in village disputes? Were we preventing another 9/11? Did they really hate us for our freedom? Was it Islam that was creating terrorists - or was it US imperialism?

Gopal moved to Afghanistan in 2008, and for more than two years found the answers to these questions. He wasn't part of the embedded press crew that is vetted for their allegiance to the US mission. Gopal traveled to remote regions of the country on the most treacherous roads in the world to talk to those who were eye-witness to the Russian occupation in the '80s, the country's Civil War in the '90s, and then the US occupation post 9/11. Gopal gets in-depth with a US-backed warlord, a Taliban fighter and a housewife.

Akbar Gul, aka Mullah Cable, (a nickname he received for his brutal use of cable whips during the Civil War) a Taliban commander and father, retreated to Pakistan as the Taliban fell. As a refugee, without work prospects, he returned to Afghanistan and opened a cell-phone repair shop - a highly valued profession in a place where cell-phones are not easily replaced. Gul's attempt to live as a simple merchant proved impossible as shakedowns from US-backed Afghan police and US military raids ended his business. When it came to supporting his family, his options became: fight the US occupation as a part of the Taliban or starve.

Jan Mohammed, a close friend of Hamid Karzai, pedophile, and vicious warlord, was appointed governor of Oruzgan Province, where he manipulated the US military to pad his own pockets with millions of dollars by providing false claims that his political rivals were members of the Taliban. Gopal shows that the US aligned with men like Momhamad because the system the US put in place, as Gopal puts it, "did not reward stability legitimacy or popularity. Instead it rewarded those who could serve up enemies." We see that the US was quite content to cast a wide and bloody net over the country. Gopal relates stories of many who did everything possible to align themselves with US interests. But even these people found themselves imprisoned indefinitely without due process in Guatanamo and the like. The US saw little difference between innocent Afghans and members of the Taliban. They just wanted blood - anyone's. 

Heela, a college-educated housewife, is the most fascinating person in the book. Run out of Kabul during the Civil War to an isolated village dominated by primitive religious rites, Heela was confined to her home under threat of death, with permission to leave only under the supervision of a blood-related male chaperone. These impossibly restrictive conditions did not prevent Heela from creating an underground educational system for other women in her village. These efforts, as well as the actions of her politically active husband made her a target of Jan Mohammad. She lost her husband to the warlord's henchmen and barely escaped from her village with her own and her children's lives.

Gopal frames these stories with the ten-year occupation of the country by the Russians, the US financing of fundamentalists during the 80s, and the horrific Civil War that befell the country. We learn why the Taliban came to rule following the power vacuum left by the Russians and the US when both turned a blind eye to the country following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The most frustrating revelations of the book, for those of us who lost friends in Afghanistan, were the details of why the Taliban surrendered, and al-Qaeda fled to Pakistan within months of the US invasion. Everything that happened, the US casualties, the thousands of Afghan civilian deaths, and the half a trillion dollars spent not on infrastructure but destruction could have been avoided if the US had accepted the surrender. But the Bush and then Obama administration demanded unending blood.

No Good Men Among the Living is not a self-serving adventure story about what it takes to get a report from a war-torn and exotic place like Afghanistan. For the most part, Gopal takes himself out of the book and we are led by those we never hear from in the mainstream media. Despite not mentioning very much about his own story, Gopal should be commended and thanked for putting his life on the line to create such an important book.

Poverty, war, and decades of occupation have made finding new and creative survival techniques a way of life for most Afghans. It is the pressing weight of uncertain future and the regular threat of loss that make allegiances so fickle for many. Anyone who understands this will see why the Taliban surrendered so quickly following the initial US invasion. And this is where we can begin to find the motivation for Gopal's title. "No good men among the living" is a Pashtun proverb that means, as Gopal writes:

There are no heroes, no saviors in this world. Neither side of the conflict offered much hope for a better future. The categories of the American war on terror - terrorists, fundamentalists and democrats - mattered little, not when [the] abiding goal was simply to finish each day.

Give this book to anyone you know who plans on joining the US military or blames Islam for the US occupation of Afghanistan - they are sure to rethink their position after reading it. There is hope, much humanity, and the power to end our unending wars in Gopal's magnificent work.

Progressive Picks Sun, 21 Sep 2014 15:37:24 -0400
Can "Womenomics" Stem the Feminization of Poverty in Japan?

Tokyo - Fifty-four-year-old Marlyn Maeda, an unmarried freelance writer living in Tokyo who never held a permanent job, is now watching her dream of aging independently go up in smoke.

“I work four jobs and barely survive,” said the writer, who disclosed only her penname to IPS. Her monthly income after writing articles, working at a call centre, selling cosmetics five days a week and working one night at a bar hovers at close to 1,600 dollars.

Maeda belongs to the burgeoning ranks of the poor in Japan, a country that saw its poverty rate pass the 16-percent mark in 2013 as a result of more than two decades of sluggish growth that has led to lower salaries and the cutting of permanent jobs among this population of 127.3 million people.

She also represents an alarming trend: rising poverty among women, who now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third-largest economy and fastest-aging society.

Indeed, Maeda points out her pay is now a low 50 dollars per article, down from the heady era of the 80s and 90s when she earned at least three times that rate.

Japan defines the poverty threshold as those earning less than 10,000 dollars per year. The elderly and part-timers fall into this category, and Maeda’s hard-earned income, which places her slightly above the official poverty line, nonetheless keeps her on her toes, barely able to cover her most basic needs.

“When the call centre cut my working days to three a week in June, and payment for freelancers [dropped], I became really worried about my future. If I fall sick and cannot work, I will just have to live on the streets,” Maeda asserted.

After paying her rent, taxes and health insurance, she admits to being so hard-pressed that she sometimes borrows from her aging parents in order to survive.

Maeda’s story, which echoes the experience of so many women in Japan today, flies in the face of government efforts to empower women and improve their economic participation.

In fact, a sweeping package of reforms introduced earlier this year by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was met with skepticism from gender experts and advocates, who are disheartened by the myriad social and economic barriers facing women.

Dubbed ‘Womenomics’ in line with Abe’s economic reform policies – based on anti-deflation and GDP-growth measures that earned the label ‘Abenomics’ in early 2013 – the move calls for several changes that will pave the way for Japanese women, long discriminated in the work place, to gain new terms including equal salaries as their male counterparts, longer periods of childcare leave and promotions.

Given the fact that 60 percent of employed women leave their jobs when starting a family, Abe has promised to tackle key barriers, including increasing the number of daycare slots for children by 20,000, and upping the number of after-school programmes by 300,000 by 2020.

Another target is to increase women’s share of leadership positions to 30 percent by that same year.

Writing about the scheme in the Wall Street Journal last September, Abe claimed the government growth plan could spur a two-percent increase in productivity over the middle to long term, which in turn could lead to an average two-percent increase in inflation-adjusted GDP over a 10-year period.

“We have set the goal of boosting women’s workforce participation from the current 68 percent to 73 percent by the year 2020,” Abe wrote, adding, “Japanese women earn, on average, 30.2 percent less than men (compared with 20.1 percent in the U.S. and just 0.2 percent in the Philippines). We must bridge this equality gap.”

But for experts like Hiroko Inokuma, a gender researcher focusing on the challenges facing working mothers, this is a “tall order”, especially in the light of “growing job insecurity, which is already leading to dismal poverty figures among women.”

Indeed, the numbers paint a grim picture: one in three women between the ages of 20 and 64 years of age and living alone are living in poverty, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (NIPSSR), a leading Tokyo-based think tank.

Among married women, the poverty figure is 11 percent and counts mostly older women whose husbands have died. Almost 50 percent of divorced women have also been identified as grappling with poverty.

In addition, the poverty rate was 31.6 percent among surveyed working women, compared to 25.1 percent among men.

Health and Welfare Ministry statistics indicate that Japan is now registering record poverty levels; the year 2010 saw the highest number of welfare recipients in the last several decades, with 2.09 million people, or 16 percent of the population, requiring government assistance.

Against this backdrop, Akiko Suzuki, of the non-profit ‘Inclusive Net’, which supports the homeless, explained to IPS that Abe’s proposed changes and targets are highly illusive.

“After years of working with low-income people, I link the increase in females grappling with poverty to the rising number of part-time or contract jobs that are replacing full-time positions in companies,” she said.

The nursing industry, for instance, employs the highest number of part-time employees in Japan, of which 90.5 percent are women.

Inclusive Net reports that women currently comprise 20 percent of the average 3,000 people per month actively seeking support for their economic woes, up from less than 10 percent three years ago.

“We have women who are desperate. Because they do not hold secure jobs, they endure searing problems such as domestic violence or workplace harassment,” said Suzuki.

Japan has 20 million temporary workers, accounting for 40 percent of its workforce. Females comprise 63 percent of those holding jobs that pay less than 38 percent of a full-time worker’s salary.

Aya Abe, poverty researcher at the NIPSSR, told IPS that poverty among women has been a perennial problem in Japanese society, where they traditionally play second fiddle to men.

“For decades women have managed to get by despite earning less because they had earning husbands or lived with their parents. They also lived frugally. The recent poverty trend can then be related to less women getting married or being stuck in low-paid, part-time or contract work,” she stated.

A highlight of the prime minister’s gender empowerment proposals is the plan to remove a sacred tax benefit for husbands that also protects their working spouses who earn less than 10,000 dollars annually.

The tax was introduced in 1961 when Japan was composed of mostly single-income households led by male breadwinners under the life-term employment system.

Proponents say discarding the tax benefit will encourage women to work full-time while others argue this could increase women’s vulnerability by stripping them of a crucial social safety net.

While the political debate rages on, hundreds of thousands of Japanese women are struggling to make it through these dark days, with no sign of a silver lining. According to experts like Suzuki, “An aging population and unstable jobs means the feminisation of poverty is here to stay.”

News Sun, 21 Sep 2014 13:39:25 -0400
The GOP Social Security Deception Game Is On - Here's How to Fight Back

The Social Security deception game that Republican candidates have resorted to playing in recent election cycles is back. But, at a rally on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) showed how candidates and activists can defeat the gamesmanship and be true champions of strengthening Social Security.

The deception game is showing up in ads such as one now being aired in New York’s 21st congressional district, in which Republican Elise M. Stefanik is running against Democrat Aaron G. Woolf for a seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Bill Owens. The ad claims that Woolf supports policies that would dramatically cut Social Security benefits, while Stefanik says that she is committed to policies that “protect and preserve Social Security.”

The ad is blatantly false. (For starters, just read the article that Stefanik uses to base one of her claims against Woolf.) Woolf’s campaign website, while lacking details, explicitly says, “No cuts to Medicare, no cuts to Social Security.” Stefanik, on the other hand, supports raising the retirement age for Social Security and reducing the inflation adjustment seniors would receive each year. In other words, it’s Stefanik that will cut benefits, not Woolf. And that “$3,287 cut in Social Security” that Woolf allegedly would inflict on seniors if he is elected? That’s the Social Security Board of Trustees estimate of what would happen if Congress did nothing to shore up the Social Security system – by 2033.

The only way to deal with candidates who won’t let the facts get in the way of a smarmy campaign ad is to speak the truth with boldness.

At Thursday’s “Hands Off Social Security” rally, which the Campaign for America’s Future co-sponsored, Warren pointed out that according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, American households are $6.6 trillion short of what they would need to have in their savings for an adequate retirement.

“Families are squeezed,” Warren said. “The last thing we need to be talking about is cutting Social Security.”

Since the 1980s, however, Republicans have been working to do just that, Warren said, enacting policies such as tax cuts for the wealthy that increased deficits and created the pretext of a crisis that would justify cutting or privatizing Social Security. “We’re here to take the initiative to say that will not happen on our watch. Social Security benefits need to be expanded, and so does Medicare.”

As Warren said Thursday, the polling is on the side of candidates who campaign on strengthening Social Security. Conservative candidates know that; that’s why they couch their plans to defer and degrade benefits as “protecting” Social Security, even as they reject measures – ensuring wealthy individuals pay the same percentage of their salary in payroll taxes as the rest of us, as well as pushing for higher wages and full employment, which would increase Social Security reserves – that would actually protect Social Security for the next 75 years and beyond.

More important, she added, is the moral imperative, “that Social Security is about the dignity of human beings. You work hard for a lifetime and you are entitled to retire in dignity and that means a strong Social Security system and strong Medicare.”

Opinion Sun, 21 Sep 2014 13:22:01 -0400
At Elite Media, "Scientific" Racists Fit in Fine

Nicholas Wade was a leading New York Times science writer for three decades, at one point the editor of the “Science Times” section. He retired from full-time work at the paper in 2012, and in May 2014 published A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, a book that has been described as a full-throated defense of “scientific racism” (New Statesman, 5/20/14). Wade’s embrace of the pseudoscience of eugenics raises questions about his tenure at theTimes, and about corporate media vigilance when it comes to racism.

Media frequently fail to challenge racism in high places (FAIR Blog, 6/27/14) - in part because some highly placed corporate media figures are themselves attracted to racialist ideologies. Extra! (4/05) documented this after New York Times columnists David Brooks (12/7/04) and John Tierney (10/24/04) approvingly cited the work of Steve Sailer, a central figure in the promotion of racist and anti-immigrant theories.

For his part, Brooks praised a Sailer article in the American Conservative (12/20/04) that celebrated white people who flouted the Western trend toward declining birth rates, having lots of children and leaving behind what Brooks called the “disorder, vulgarity and danger” of cities to move to “clean, orderly” suburban and exurban settings where they can “protect their children from bad influences.” Sailer himself made clear what those bad influences were, mentioning “ghetto hellions,” “illegal immigrants and other poor minorities.”

In 1994, when Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray published The Bell Curve, a book espousing the so-called “academic racist” theories that black people are inherently less intelligent and more prone to crime than whites or Asians, the New York Times Book Review (10/16/94) published a fawning, credulous review by Times science reporter Malcolm Browne.

The Times wasn’t the only “liberal” outlet to praise a book that, according to co-author Murray (New York Times Magazine, 10/9/94), was largely based on sources so odious he would hide them from public view. The putatively liberal New Republic verily gushed over the book, with editor Andrew Sullivan dedicating an entire issue of the magazine (10/31/94) to it.

In that issue, Sullivan himself defended the book’s key premise: “The notion that there might be resilient ethnic differences in intelligence is not, we believe, an inherently racist belief.”

FAIR’s Jim Naureckas (Extra!, 1/95) answered Sullivan and fellow Bell Curve defenders:

In fact, the idea that some races are inherently inferior to others is the definition of racism. What the New Republic was saying–along with other media outlets that prominently and respectfully considered the thesis of Charles Murray and the late Richard Herrnstein's book–is that racism is a respectable intellectual position, and has a legitimate place in the national debate on race.

It goes without saying that a right-wing outlet like the National Review, long steeped in bogus IQ science, biological determinism and plain old racism (Extra!, 4/05, 6/08; FAIR Blog, 4/11/12), was thrilled by The Bell Curve, dedicating most of an issue to the book (12/5/94), including an approving piece by Arthur Jensen, a patriarch of scientific racism, and one of the sources Murray had to keep hidden.

This brings us to A Troublesome Inheritance, in which a long-time New York Times science writer came fully out of the closet as an adherent of racist pseudoscience.

Wade argues that race is not, as many experts say, little more than a social construct, but rather centrally important, something like destiny. One culture's superiority over another, Wade argues, is determined by evolutionary differences—genetics—forged by differing environments and manifested in various cultures. This leads Wade to some crude conclusions, like suggesting that Jews are genetically selected to be good with money:

Populations that live at high altitudes, like Tibetans, represent another adaptation to extreme environments. The adaptation of Jews to capitalism is another such evolutionary process.

Expanding on the lack of economic success in African nations relative to those in Western Europe, Wade writes, "Variations in their nature, such as their time preference, work ethic and propensity to violence, have some bearing on the economic decisions they make."

Expanding on the lack of economic success in African nations relative to those in Western Europe, Wade writes, "Variations in their nature, such as their time preference, work ethic and propensity to violence, have some bearing on the economic decisions they make."

Perhaps Wade's conclusions aren't surprising, considering his sources. As Jon Phillips writes in "Troublesome Sources: Nicholas Wade's Embrace of Scientific Racism" (Hatewatch, 5/28/14), Wade employed leading scientific racists Arthur Jensen and Richard Lynn—two of Murray's favorite sources—but didn't seem too eager to put their work in context:

Wade manages to write a summary of American eugenics that completely neglects to mention the Pioneer Fund. Founded by Nazi sympathizers in 1937, the Pioneer Fund was, and continues to be, the chief source of financial support for eugenic research in the postwar period. One cannot help but wonder if this omission is related to the fact that Wade approvingly cites Pioneer grantees like Arthur Jensen, and relies heavily on the work of the Fund's current president, Richard Lynn, for data on the low IQs of black populations worldwide.

There's one encouraging sign resulting from the publication of A Troublesome Inheritance: The book has fared badly with reviewers, even in the outlets where the harsher, more malicious Bell Curve thrived. For instance, Wade's former home, the New York Times (5/15/14), ran a review that stated half-way in, "This is where Mr. Wade's argument starts to go off the rails." The reviewer is describing Wade's views on the differences "between tribal and modern societies":

At times, his theorizing is merely puzzling, as when he notes that the gene variant that gives East Asians dry earwax also produces less body odor, which would have been attractive "among people spending many months in confined spaces to escape the cold." No explanation of why ancient Europeans, presumably cooped up just as much, didn't also develop this trait. Later, he speculates that thick hair and small breasts evolved in Asian women because they may have been "much admired by Asian men." And why, you might ask, did Asian men alone prefer these traits?

The New Republic (5/25/14), which gushed over Herrnstein and Murray's book, called Wade's "racist" and its arguments "stupid," shooting holes in its scientific rigor and unsupported assumptions. Perhaps a different editor and the fact that the piece was a reprint from the leftish UK magazine New Statesman (5/20/14) made the difference, but the New Republic seems to have changed its mind about scientific racism.

Statistician Andrew Gelman (Slate, 5/8/14) elaborated on Wade's gene obsession, showing how his assumptions often get him into trouble. For instance, in one passage, Wade asks, "Capital and information flow fairly freely, so what is it that prevents poor countries from taking out a loan, copying every Scandinavian institution, and becoming as rich and peaceful as Denmark?" Wade wants us to assume that genes are the answer; however, writes Gelman,

one might just as well ask why can't Buffalo, New York, take out a loan and become as rich (per capita) as New York City. Or, for that matter, why can't Portugal become as rich as Denmark? After all, Portuguese are Caucasians too!

And Wade's genetic obsession isn't anything new. In "The Hunt for the Hat Gene" (Language Log, 11/15/09), University of Pennsylvania linguist Mark Liberman noted Wade's bizarre insistence in his Times reporting that every human action, cultural trait or behavior must have a corresponding gene, and how this apparent genetic fetish led him to over-interpreting or even fabricating the science:

Nicholas Wade is an inveterate gene-for-X enthusiast–he's got 68 stories in the NYT index with "gene" in the headline–and he's had two opportunities to celebrate this idea in the past few days: "Speech Gene Shows Its Bossy Nature," 11/12/09, and "The Evolution of the God Gene," 11/14/09.

Liberman explains why the first of these stories was "basically nonsense," while describing the second as "a completely hypothetical just-so story" that "verges on the bizarre."

Perhaps most telling, and damning, is the warm reception Wade's book got from openly racist outlets, including the website VDARE (3/14/14), where racebaiting former National Review writer John Derbyshire weighed in with "heartfelt" praise; former National Review contributor Sailer published a positive review in Taki's Magazine (4/30/14). Self-described white separatist Jared Taylor wrote his own fawning review on his American Renaissance website (3/2/14).

"Wade admits what Dr. David Duke and many others have long maintained—that there is indeed a biological basis to race," Duke's website (5/12/14) declared in a piece about "How Jewish Supremacism Attempts to Guard the Gates of Science."

The racists' adoring reviews revealed that they have had a fond eye on Wade for years, seeing in him a like-minded thinker. For instance, in his VDARE review, Derbyshire harshly criticized the New York Times' science section, but singled out Wade as an exception:

All the more reason to treasure Nicholas Wade, longtime science reporter at the Times. Wade belongs to the older tradition of science writer.... In his articles on genetics, he has distinguished himself for at least the past dozen years by writing frankly about biological race differences.

In Taki's, Sailer also praised Wade's Times work, including a Times editorial (6/15/11) he wrote blasting the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould for being too hard on a racist scientist.

Wade last wrote for the Times on May 27, three weeks after his book was released. It's striking that in all those years that the racist right was admiring Wade's work, the Times either didn't notice or didn't care.

Opinion Sun, 21 Sep 2014 12:32:55 -0400
Truthout Interviews Marjorie Cohn on Racial Discrimination and Perpetual War

Marjorie Cohn. (Screengrab: Truthout)Marjorie Cohn. (Screengrab: Truthout)Also see: US Slammed for Failure to Fulfill Legal Obligation to Eliminate All Forms of Race Discrimination and Obama Declares Perpetual War.

To read more articles by Marjorie Cohn, click here.

While no elected leader will admit it publicly, hypocrisy is often a virtue in politics. Yet even in the political world where hypocrisy, prevarication, deceit, and cover-ups are often the currency of the culture, to be called out on one's hypocrisy in word and deed can carry its own unique shame. Case in point: the United States is a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination – a treaty that is part of US law – yet actually favors policies that increase racial discrimination. The United Nations criticized the US government in a report detailing the ways in which racial discrimination has structurally intensified since the US signed the treaty. Truthout columnist Marjorie Cohn writes about what's in the UN report and reminds us how the government has failed in many ways to comply with what's set forth in the treaty.

Law professor Cohn's focus on complying with legal statutes takes her into the realm of war; specifically the impending war with Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq - and the president's lack of authority to wage war without congressional approval. As Cohn reminds us, President Obama is basing his war-making authority on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that Congress passed in 2001 and 2002 after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC. She highlights the limitations of those congressional authorizations and how the intent of Congress was to prevent the Bush Administration from engaging in an open-ended and perpetual war – a war Obama is ready to continue with or without congressional approval.

News Sun, 21 Sep 2014 11:16:03 -0400
Watch Live: People's Climate March

Tune in this Sunday, September 21, from 10:30am to 1:30pm ET when Democracy Now! will broadcast live from the People's Climate March in New York City, part of a global mobilization in advance of a UN special session on climate change.

News Sun, 21 Sep 2014 09:25:46 -0400
While We March for the Climate, Governments Meet With Polluters

Business meeting(Image: Business meeting via Shutterstock; Edited: JR/TO)This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and

I’m going to guess you’ve heard of the People’s Climate March by now. It’s been all over Facebook, the blogosphere, buses, and subway cars—it’s even shown up on network news, which has been something of a black hole for climate activism.

But in case you’re just getting back from vacation (or a cave), here’s the deal: on Sunday, September 21st, tens of thousands of people are expected to flood the streets of New York City to call on global leaders to take action on climate change.

What’s been somewhat forgotten in the truly herculean effort to make this the biggest climate mobilization ever is what global leaders are doing in town in the first place.

The truth is, they’ve been called to New York by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to meet in an unofficial capacity, because formal negotiations for a global treaty to stabilize the climate aren’t going so well.

Circular Debates

In fact, little more than a year out from the December 2015 deadline for signing a deal, countries can’t even agree on a fundamental approach to curbing heat-trapping greenhouse emissions.

One option is a binding treaty that mandates a clear target for reducing overall emissions and assigns each country a fair share of the work. The second option is a nonbinding “pledge and review” process by which each nation records what pollution cuts it thinks it can make. According to this plan, we’d add up those pledges, hope they’re enough to avoid climate chaos, and come back in a few years to see how governments have done.

The United States is the primary proponent of the latter option, for the record.

But emissions cuts are not the only hang-up.

If there’s frighteningly little political will to take common-sense action in the face of devastating ecological disruption—i.e., to stop burning fossil fuels and put clean renewable energy in place as fast as possible—there is even less appetite to pay for it.

At the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009, industrialized countries promised to create a “Green Climate Fund” to channel money to poorer countries to support their shift to clean energy and climate-resilient development. Since the global North made much of its wealth polluting the planet, it seemed only fair that it would pick up part of the tab to help the South grapple with the result.

But five years later, the fund lies conspicuously empty.

Rich countries say that in order to muster political support for climate finance, they need to see developing countries going out of their way to earn it. Poor countries wonder how they’re supposed to act first when many of them are on the front lines of climate chaos largely caused by pollution from rich countries.

Making Space for Polluters

These debates are nothing new. They’re repeated every year at the UN climate convention.

What’s different about the upcoming New York climate summit is its unofficial nature, which is meant to provide a “neutral” space where heads of state can have a more productive conversation. But by holding the summit outside of official negotiations, the secretary general has set a table where corporations and banks are on equal footing with governments. Literally.

The one-day climate summit will feature a high-level private sector luncheon where businesses will share actions they are taking “to demonstrate leadership on climate change and measures that governments can take to enable the private sector to develop long-term climate change solutions.”

The guest list includes global oil and gas company Royal Dutch Shell, international coal financier Barclays Bank, and South Africa’s power utility Eskom, which is currently building one of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants with funding from the World Bank. They’ll be joined by more than 130 other companies and banks.

That means our leaders aren’t just dithering at the edges while the planet burns—they’re actively inviting the very companies that are causing this crisis to help fix it.

The Bottom Line

“So what?” you might wonder. “Don’t companies have a role to play?”

Of course they do. But there’s no solution to climate change that doesn’t threaten the bottom line of companies that currently profit from dirty energy. That doesn’t mean that their interests never line up with what’s good for the climate. But when they don’t, it’s tough luck for people and the planet.

Unfortunately, governments have been abetting this “tough luck” for years. Look no further than the Green Climate Fund.

At the behest of governments—mainly from developed countries, where most multinational corporations are headquartered—the private sector has played a central role in the institution from the beginning. There is a special facility specifically to support the private sector, a private sector advisory group that makes policy recommendations on all aspects of the fund, and two private sector observers that comment on the proceedings of the fund’s board.

Ironically enough, one of these observer seats is filled by Bank of America, whose shareholders have pushed back against its financing of the coal industry.

Unsurprisingly, corporate influence is threatening the very purpose of the fund. The rules governing investment and what institutions can receive funding are being written with the express purpose of making the Green Climate Fund as attractive as possible to financial investors.

In a board discussion about whether to exclude oil, coal, and gas projects from receiving money from the green fund, for example, one private sector observer argued that “ruling out technologies” would tie the hands of governments trying to address climate change.

But wasn’t financing a transition away from these “technologies” the point of the fund to begin with?


At this point the small group of social movements and non-profit organizations trying to keep corporate influence in check at the fund are severely outflanked.

So while turning out in big numbers in the Big Apple is critical, it will take more than marching to compel governments to stop supporting the fossil fuel industry and start regulating and reducing climate pollution.

Imagine the collective power we could bring to bear if the 1,400-plus organizations endorsing the climate march—representing the labor movement, people of faith, youth, immigrant rights activists, and of course, environmentalists—pulled out all the stops and poured their resources into an uncompromising, coordinated “no more dirty energy” campaign: one that forces governments to cut taxpayer subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, puts our bodies in the way of fossil fuel extraction and transport, and moves money quickly to community-centered renewable technologies that already exist.

In the meantime, we can and should keep flexing our political muscle. One way is to “flood Wall Street,” as activists staying on in New York are planning to do after the climate march.

Kicking corporations and big banks—and their government enablers—out of the Green Climate Fund is another.

Opinion Sun, 21 Sep 2014 00:00:00 -0400
"Don't Warehouse Me in a Nursing Home"

2014 920 care sw(Image: Medical care via Shutterstock)The state of Tennessee has already made it impossible for loving, married couples to remain together when one of them is sick and medical insurance literally keeps him or her alive. But by refusing to expand Medicaid, as so many other states across the country have done, Tennessee is being forced to make cuts that are affecting those with illnesses or disabilities who previously had been living independently in their own homes, forcing them into assisted living situations instead. Care2 member Angela Butler Hibbitt is one of those people affected by these cuts, so she decided to fight back.

Angela Butler Hibbitt has been struggling with muscular dystrophy since she was a child, and in 1996 her pulmonary system weakened to the point where she was required to use a ventilator. Still, she has spent almost two decades despite that living in her own home — at least, as long as she has some assistance. That assistance had come through private nurses, two shifts each day, which left a four hour period in the evening that she would have friends or family members come over to help.

The private nurses were provided by TennCare, the state's Medicaid program. But that program has been looking for places to cut costs, especially in light of its refusal to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid, and private nursing care is one place they have decided to do it.

Changing nursing allotments from 20 hours a day to 16 might not seem that significant on the face of it, but for a person like Butler Hibbitt, who has been independent all her life, those extra four hours is the breaking point for her to be able to reside in her own home. It doubles the hours a day that her support network would be required to commit to her care, leaving her with the grim prospect of being sent to a nursing home far away from everything and everyone she currently knows and loves. The risks of being left alone, however, could mean death.

"Anyone depending on a ventilator must not be left alone in case a tube comes undone, or the patient needs to be suctioned, which is removing secretions from the airway," Butler Hibbitt explained to me via email. "The vital parts is to have someone in the home who is educated enough to resolve any problems with the ventilator because this equipment is life-saving."

While the risk of being at home are extreme if she doesn't have someone to help her, the alternative — a full time care facility, including a bed in a shared room, is a grim one. "The differences between staying in my home and going to facility are vast," she said. "I have created a home where I can personally do whatever I choose. I can have guests, I can decorate, I can eat when I want or what I want, I can regulate my own temperature like any homeowner, I can have pets if I like, I can leave or come home whatever I want asking no one's permission, I can plant flowers, I can have my yard any way I like, I can put whatever furniture I like, or paint if I like, I can simply live my life as I choose."

"I would not be able to see my family nor where I have any of the privileges that I have in my own home," she added. "I don't think I could find any happiness there."

Now, she is asking the governor to put her own quality of life ahead of whatever cost savings he believes he will obtain through cutting the nursing hours of those on home care. "I understand that my care is expensive, and it seems that TennCare is focusing primarily on that fact. But please believe I am so much more than a number!" said Butler Hibbitt in her petition to the governor. "I am a human being: a woman, a friend, a daughter, a wife, a girlfriend, a pet mother. I am a person who will listen with all her heart to other's problems, a person who can pray for others, a person who can make you laugh, a person who can attend Tennessee Titans football games, and goes grocery shopping. I pay my bills, care for my home, and I am capable of speaking up for myself and for other severely disabled citizens. I participate in life the same way as every other able-bodied person."

Ironically, just two years ago, the state started a pilot program through TennCare to help assist people and keep them in their homes, living independently, and out of nursing facilities. At the time, the program was seen as a groundbreaking way to both help keep people out of nursing homes and even save the state costs. Now, the state has a new way to "save costs" — on the backs of people like Butler Hibbitt.

Please sign and share Angela Butler Hibbitt's petition if you believe her quality of life and independence are worth more than the state of Tennessee saving four hours a day in nursing costs.

If there's something in your local community or worldwide you'd like to address, consider starting your own petition.

Opinion Sat, 20 Sep 2014 14:00:48 -0400
First Fall Semester Debtors’ Assembly at SIUC: A Critique of the Student Debt Regime’-assembly-at-siuc-a-critique-of-the-student-debt-regime’-assembly-at-siuc-a-critique-of-the-student-debt-regime

How did the student debt regime come to be?

The question was posed as the first debtors' assembly of the fall semester got underway on Southern Illinois University campus.

The following analysis is derived from the talk that took place at the beginning of the assembly held September 17, on the third anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

To begin, we pose as a problem the $1.2 trillion cumulative student load debt supposedly owed to the government and financial institutions and the almost 30 grand graduates owe on average in student loan debt.

Student loan debt is a relatively new phenomenon, and a product of what we call the prevailing debt regime.

Just a few decades ago, prior to the advent of this new regime, accumulating debt in and as a result of attending college was virtually unheard of. The University of California charged only $647 in tuition annually in the 1960s, and there was little need or even the opportunity to go into massive amounts of debt.

After World War II, when the GI Bill provided free tuition for veterans, higher education could be seen as a public good and a way for empowering the population to create a better world with ideas and ideals in mind. This is not to say that the United States government had such aims in mind for its massive investment in higher education. But a significant shift to conceiving education as a personal career opportunity occurred after and as a response to the social movements and organizing of the 1950s through the 1970s.

During the 1960s especially, the structures of governmental authority were challenged to their core. In every segment of American society people were questioning authority and acting on that questioning of authority.

In the South people eschewed appeals to politicians and took direct action for desegregation. In the workplace workers went on wildcat strikes unauthorized by formal union authorities. Women's movements challenged patriarchy with consciousness-raising groups, consensus-based decision-making and direct action. Students were also breaking down the structures of authority within the University, and connecting the smooth function of everyday life in the United States with the function of an imperial war machine that was killing millions of people in Vietnam.Siu protests

The university here in Carbondale even closed under pressure from mass student protests in May 1970. Historian and journalist Allan Keith, who was a graduate student at SIUC at the time, later documented events during the tumultuous period in his book "SIUC's Days of Dissent: A Memoir of Student Protest."

The university became one hotbed of what those in power call 'civil unrest' or 'chaos,' but from the perspective of people that are trying to struggle for a better world, it was really just a hotbed of democracy.

The popular desire for direct democratization did not go over well with everyone, however, especially not with those who benefited from the authority structures that prevented people from having a say in the decisions affecting their lives.

Ronald Reagan vowed "to clean up that mess at Berkeley," which was the home of the Free Speech Movement that started in 1964. Reagan proceeded to hike tuition and fees as governor, and using the University of California as his ideological target, set the course for large-scale privatization of education.

This was an important moment in the use of debt as a political tool. It was the initial step in constructing the regime of debt we live under today.

Reagan recognized the connection between forcing students to purchase their education as a pricy commodity and obtaining their obedience. These conditions would eventually lead to people pursuing education in order to get a job to survive and pay off loans. The conditions consigned the intention of learning about the world in order to change it for the better to the extreme margins of University life.

Reagan was just one politician, but his political reaction typified a growing trend.

The infamous "Powell memo," sent by Lewis Powell Jr. to the Chamber of Commerce in 1971, further illustrates the felt need on behalf of the ruling class to tame the University. Powell referred to the college campus "as the single most dynamic source" of the attack on the "free enterprise" system.

In his concluding thoughts on the problem of the University campus, Powell fallaciously assumed that every position must be put on a continuum of moral equivalence – even the position of those imperialists and capitalists who kill and exploit others. His conclusions foreshadow the rhetoric of Fox News by claiming the problem is that University discourse about the "free enterprise" system is not "balanced" enough, and he recommends a propaganda campaign for influencing the discussion.

In the memo, Powell also urges no reservations in attacking those within academe critical of the system, like Herbert Marcuse, and "others who openly seek destruction of the enterprise system."

Marcuse, then professor of philosophy at the University of California San Diego, recognized in his 1972 book, "Counter-revolution and Revolt" the impending efforts to beat back revolutionary democratization through counterrevolutionary organization. Marcuse observed how "bourgeois philosophy" once proclaimed the importance of education for a better humanity. In contrast and as of his writing, he noted how the Council of Higher Education had been "called upon to study the 'detailed needs' of the established society," to know what sort of graduate students to churn out. To make the "the university 'relevant' for today and tomorrow," he argued, "means presenting the facts and forces that made civilization what it is today and what it could be tomorrow," which requires effort to halt the "repetition of domination and submission" by recovering "knowledge of its genesis and of the ways in which it is reproduced: critical thinking."

But defenders of domination had different ideas about what needed to happen with respect to education and democracy.

The conclusions of the Trilateral Commission, a think-tank founded by David Rockefeller in 1973, offered further evidence of why critical questioning and disruption of institutional authority could not be tolerated. The commission issued a report titled "The Crisis of Democracy," citing the failure of institutions, and universities in particular, in fulfilling what was assumed to be their task – "the indoctrination of the young," as the report stated – deemed necessary for social order, control and "democracy," doctrinally defined.

These reactionary ideas were generated in response to the democratizing efforts of social movements, many student-based, geared toward challenging concentrations of power. The breakdown in the structures of authority and the reactionary response is the beginning of the story of the student debt regime. Debt today has tamed the university. It has sucked the life and the relevance out of thought.

Those in power continually invent new snares in response to uprisings and escapes of those they control. It is the responsibility of each generation to grasp the trap in which they have been caught. Today, we need to break the power that debt has over our lives. There are a number of reasons why we need to do this, but we'll focus on just one: the relation of debt to climate change, which David Graeber has already pointed out.

To be sure, the climate catastrophe we are facing is directly related to the way the economic system is organized today.

Illuminating the implications of that ensuing catastrophe, a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found that "the current trajectory of global annual and cumulative emissions" of greenhouses gases remains "inconsistent with widely discussed goals of limiting global warming at 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level." The IPCC report stressed necessary "changes in human behaviours" – human habits of course conditioned by the institutions in place and the forms of social control enabled by them.

Debt, as a mechanism for social control, prevents people from really solving problems that people as a whole are causing, like Anthropogenic Climate Disruption, our present-day existential threat. Students can go to school and learn about how we are condemning species to extinction while disrupting the climate at an unprecedented rate and destroying the conditions for any decent civilization. However, most who go to school and learn this also accumulate sizable debts they must pay off; they are thus compelled take whatever job is available.

But who has the jobs? Easy answer: the people with all the money. The people with all the money in this context are the people who are benefiting from things being exactly as they are, or from making them worse and more exploitative. So our debt in this case actually limits our ability to address the problems that are really facing us as a generation.

Debt constitutes a kind of oppression, and it is a form of oppression not always readily recognized as such. Paulo Freire once wrote that those who are oppressed "must perceive the reality of oppression not as a closed world from which there is no exist, but as a limiting situation which they can transform," and that "perception is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for liberation."

Liberation from the hegemony of debt requires overcoming the contradiction embedded in the social relations that constitute it, which cannot be resolved in the realm of ideas alone, as important as the imagination is for thinking beyond what exists and about what could be.

One participant in the debtors' assembly said people should think about "opposing that oppression," which is what the Strike Debt movement "for economic justice and democratic freedom" is endeavoring to do. The Rolling Jubilee project that just abolished $4 million of student debt owed by almost 3,000 people in the US, and the Debt Collective with the call to "Organize, Resist, Reimagine," are likewise attempting to oppose the oppressiveness of the reigning regime.

Prior to the assembly, some students also mentioned the People's Climate March taking place September 21 in New York City with 250,000 expected participants and many unsanctioned direct actions anticipated.

If the interlocking oppressions connecting climate destruction with the debt regime and the related crisis of real democracy at the university are to be challenged, those involved in the September 17 assembly at SIUC seemed to suggest future debtors' assemblies and direct actions on campus – and on campuses across the US – are needed.

News Sat, 20 Sep 2014 13:33:07 -0400
Latin America at a Climate Crossroads

2014 920 carib fwWind turbine in Bonaire, Caribbean. (Photo: Boris Kasimov)

United Nations - World leaders gathered at the Climate Change Summit during the United Nations General Assembly on Sep. 23 will have a crucial opportunity to mobilise political will and advance solutions to climate change.

They will also need to address its closely connected challenges of increasing access to sustainable energy as a key tool to secure and advance gains in the social, economic and environmental realms.

Cities need to be at the heart of the solution. This is particularly important for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is the most urbanised developing region on the planet.

This is more important than ever for Latin America and the Caribbean. Even though the region is responsible for a relatively low share of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 12 percent, according to U.N. figures, it will be one of the most severely affected by temperature spikes, according a World Bank Report.

For the Caribbean region in particular, reliance on imported fuels challenges balance of payments stability and increases the vulnerability of key ecosystems that underpin important productive sectors, including tourism.

And the region faces new challenges. Demand for electricity is expected to double by 2030, as per capita income rises and countries become increasingly industrialised—and urban.

Although the region has a clean electricity matrix, with nearly 60 percent generated from hydroelectric resources, the share of fossil fuel-based generation has increased substantially in the past 10 years, mainly from natural gas.

Now is the time for governments and private sector to invest in sustainable energy alternatives—not only to encourage growth while reducing GHG emissions, but also to ensure access to clean energy to around 24 million people who still live in the dark.

Importantly, 68 million Latin Americans continue using firewood for cooking, which leads to severe health problems especially for women and their young children, entrenching cycles of poverty and contributing to local environmental degradation, including deforestation.

Urbanisation rates have jumped from 68 percent in 1980 to 80 percent in 2012. By 2050, 90 percent of the population will be living in cities. This brings about a different set of energy challenges, in particular related to transport and public services.

Therefore, the question is whether the region will tap its vast potential of renewable resources to meet this demand or will turn towards increased fossil fuel generation.

In this context, energy policies that focus not only on the economic growth but also on the long-term social and environmental benefits will be essential to shape the region's future.

Consequently, in addition to reduced CO2 emissions, the region should favour renewables. Why? Latin America and the Caribbean are a biodiversity superpower, according to a UNDP report.

On the one hand, this vast natural capital can be severely affected by climate change. Climate variability also destabilises agricultural systems and production that are key to supporting economic growth in the region.

But on the other hand, if properly managed, it could actually help adapt to climate change and increase resilience.

Also, in most countries, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas, thereby decreasing vulnerability to foreign exchange shocks linked to prices changes in world markets.

In this context, countries have already been spearheading innovative policies. Several countries in the region produce biofuel in a sustainable way. For example, Brazil's ethanol programme for automobiles is considered one of the most effective in the world.

Investing in access to energy is transformational. It means lighting for schools, functioning health clinics, pumps for water and sanitation, cleaner indoor air, faster food processing and more income-generating opportunities.

It also entails liberating women and girls from time-consuming tasks, such as collecting fuel, pounding grain and hauling water, freeing time for education and paid work.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) is working with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to boost access to sustainable energy and reduce fossil fuel dependency.

In Nicaragua, for example, nearly 50,000 people from eight rural communities gained access to electricity following the inauguration of a new 300 kilowatt micro-hydropower plant in 2012.

This was a joint partnership between national and local governments, UNDP and the Swiss and Norwegian governments, which improved lives and transformed the energy sector.

In addition to spurring a new legislation to promote electricity generation based on renewable resources, micro enterprises have been emerging and jobs have been created—for both men and women.

Universal access to modern energy services is achievable by 2030—and Latin America and the Caribbean are already moving towards that direction. This will encourage development and transform lives.

In a Nicaraguan community that is no longer in the dark, Maribel Ubeda, a mother of three, said her children are the ones most benefitting from the recent access to energy: "Now they can use the internet and discover the world beyond our community."

News Sat, 20 Sep 2014 12:56:10 -0400