Truthout Stories Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:19:46 -0400 en-gb Economic Update: Economic Reality Checks

This episode provides updates on Boeing's economic blackmail, why Chrysler's fine is bogus and a recent airline fees ploy. We also respond to questions regarding the stale debate at Medicare's 50th anniversary, and on getting financing for worker co-ops. Finally, we give an in-depth critical analysis of how China and Germany became economic powerhouses.

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News Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:13:59 -0400
Refusing to Comply With Structural Racism: From Emmett Till to Sandra Bland

Those who are charged with protecting and serving us often demand that we comply with their orders or die if we are Black. Like Emmett Till before her, Sandra Bland wound up dead not so much for what she did as for what she didn't do: comply to the structurally racist order of things.

Mourners attend the burial service for Sandra Bland at Mount Glenwood Memory Gardens West cemetery in Willow Springs Ill., July 25, 2015. Friends and family of Bland, who was found dead three days after her illegal arrest in a Texas jail, gathered Saturday to remember someone they say was far from suicidal. (Joshua Lott/The New York Times)Mourners attend the burial service for Sandra Bland at Mount Glenwood Memory Gardens West cemetery in Willow Springs Illinois, July 25, 2015. Friends and family of Bland, who was found dead three days after her illegal arrest in a Texas jail, gathered Saturday to remember someone they say was far from suicidal. (Joshua Lott/The New York Times)

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Like Emmett Till before her, Sandra Bland wound up dead not so much for what she did as for what she didn't do: comply to the structurally racist order of things.

On August 28, 1955, two white men, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, killed 14-year-old Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi, after Till reportedly made a flirtatious remark to a white woman. An all-white jury summarily acquitted Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam. Just months later, the two men talked with a reporter and admitted to torturing, killing and mutilating Till.

Till's mother Mamie Till Mobley heroically insisted on a public funeral with an open casket to expose to the world the brutality of what happened to her son. The funeral and images focused national and international attention on lynching and the apartheid character of American life under Jim Crow, and ignited the civil rights movement.

The death of Sandra Bland, while hidden behind the walls of a jail cell, is also galvanizing an already active movement for Black lives.

On July 10, 2015, Sandra Bland was pulled over in Hempstead, Texas, for a traffic violation. Sandra Bland survived that traffic stop, but she did not survive the three days in jail after that. We may never really know what happened in her case, as is the case for so many others who have died behind prison walls.

But like Mamie Till Mobley, Sandra Bland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, has refused to believe the official narrative. She has been similarly fearless in response to her child's death. Her eulogy to her daughter was also a call to action. She said, "Once I put this baby in the ground, I'm ready … this means war."

A whole generation of Black people has been given "the talk" on how to survive police encounters.

Sandra did not stick to that script. She refused to put out her cigarette. She refused to step out of the car. She described the brutality of being shoved to the ground and kneed in the back all because of a traffic violation. She called him every name under the sun. These actions were indicative of her refusal to comply, her refusal to be cowed and her insistence on her humanity. For Black people, those who are supposed to protect and serve us often demand that we comply or die. In this way, as was the case for Emmett Till, Sandra's gravest misstep was violating the structurally racist order of things.

Unlike the young Emmett Till, Sandra Bland traveled to the South fully conscious of the struggle she would face in Texas. Sandra told her mother before she left, "My purpose is to go back to Texas and stop all of the injustices in the South." Bland knew these injustices happen all across the United States. She was part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and an activist for civil rights in Chicago.

Sandra Bland's death is akin not just to the death of Emmett Till but also to the deaths of Rev. George Lee, Lamar Smith and Medgar Evers. Like those before her, Sandra took conscious risks in the demand for dignity and respect, and she paid with her life. Unlike these individuals, Sandra Bland was a woman. Black women lead this movement.

As a member of Black Lives Matter Bay Area, I attended last weekend's Movement for Black Lives convening in Cleveland, Ohio, and witnessed a whole new generation of us following. We are refusing compliance.

While I was in Ohio, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the organization of which I am the executive director, hosted a vigil and speak out for Sandra Bland back in Oakland. Black women claimed the space and expressed their rage over what happened to Sandra, the many injustices they have experienced at the hands of the state, and the need for revolutionary change.

We are not asking for entrance or acceptance into this order of things. We see a Black president presiding over the country, and the killings haven't stopped. We know the president has his own "kill list." In a country such as this one, the simple demand that Black lives matter has always been a demand for a whole new order of things.

Opinion Thu, 30 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Michigan Supreme Court Upholds Right-to-Work Law, Takes Workers Back to the Gilded Age

Michigan's right-to-work law is about recreating the 19th century social order, when the working class was thwarted at every turn in its bid to challenge economic inequality under capitalism. On Thursday, the Michigan Supreme Court made it possible to turn back the hands of time.



Protesters gather at the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich., where they filled the rotunda and spilled out onto the lawn Dec. 11, 2012. Sweeping legislation signed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday will vastly reduce the power of organized labor in a state that was a symbol of union clout for decades. (Fabrizio Costantini/The New York Times)Protesters gather at the state Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, where they filled the rotunda and spilled out onto the lawn December 11, 2012. Sweeping legislation signed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday will vastly reduce the power of organized labor in a state that was a symbol of union clout for decades. (Fabrizio Costantini/The New York Times)

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By ruling that public employees are covered by Michigan's right-to-work law, the state Supreme Court is not advancing the cause of freedom as conservatives argue, but is instead turning back the clock on labor rights to the 19th century.

Republican lawmakers passed the measure in December 2012, making it illegal to require workers to pay union dues or service fees as a condition of employment. Shortly thereafter, public sector employees filed a lawsuit saying they were exempt from the law because their workplaces came under the jurisdiction of the Michigan Civil Service Commission, not private sector employment law. On Wednesday, July 29, the high court, in a 4-3 ruling, rejected the workers' plea.

The impact on workers and their organizations is not only monetary. Current conspiracy laws also undercut collective action.

With that, the court completed the transformation of this longtime labor stronghold into an anti-labor regime, reminiscent of the Gilded Age US. Back in those days, lawmakers of both major parties said that union contracts bound bosses and workers to a common set of wages and working conditions, and in doing so, unjustly prohibited individual employers from cutting side deals with individual workers. Instead of viewing unions as a collective route to a better life, 19th-century lawmakers sought to portray unions as dangerous conspiracies that subverted individual rights. In response, politicians passed "conspiracy laws" to protect the employee's "right to work" on whatever terms s/he saw fit.

A similarly misleading individualism inspires contemporary rhetoric. On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Snyder said the Supreme Court's ruling "ensures that state employees will enjoy the same rights and protections as private sector workers across Michigan," calling the 2012 measures, "freedom-to-work laws."

Michigan Freedom Fund president Terri Reid, who backed the law, likewise wrote, "Today is a great day for workers in Michigan … individuals' freedoms shouldn't end when they take a job working on behalf of taxpayers … today's ruling ensures that they won't."

Now, one might ask, "Shouldn't workers get to choose?" The problem is that choice is a red herring, a distraction from what is really a right-wing power play. Michigan workers already had the choice to join a union or not, but even nonmembers paid a small service fee because unions were legally bound to organize and represent everyone in workplace grievances and contract negotiations. This is called "fair share."

By giving workers the "choice" to pay dues or pay nothing at all, Snyder and Reid are attempting to deprive workers of the organizational resources needed to pressure employers into paying a living wage. Conservative lawmakers are not protecting workers as individuals - they are disempowering workers as a class.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Michigan union membership has already fallen sharply from 16.3 percent in 2013 to 14.5 percent in 2014, the first full year under the right-to-work law. That's a loss of 46,860 dues-paying members out of a total membership of 585,000 in just 12 months. Public employees took the brunt of that loss. Whereas overall membership dropped by around 2 percent, public sector union membership fell 4.3 percent, or by 24,900 workers.

The impact on workers and their organizations is not only monetary. Current conspiracy laws also undercut collective action. If workers don't pay dues, they're not likely to make other sacrifices for the benefit of their coworkers like signing a petition, attending a rally or walking a picket line. Michigan's right-to-work law is about recreating the 19th century social order, when the working class was thwarted at every turn in their bid to challenge economic inequality under capitalism. Today, the Michigan Supreme Court made it possible to turn back

News Thu, 30 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Coming-Out Memoir That Became a Hit Broadway Musical

In a Democracy Now! special, we look at the acclaimed Broadway musical Fun Home, which swept the Tony Awards last month. Composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist Lisa Kron made history as the first female duo to win a Tony Award for Best Original Score. Fun Home is also the first-ever Broadway musical to feature a lesbian protagonist. The musical is based on the 2006 best-selling graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. The memoir is a poignant exploration of family, memory, first love, coming out and a daughter's relationship with her father. The title comes from the Bechdels' nickname for their family business: a funeral parlor. Throughout the memoir, Bechdel - the artist and protagonist - sketches out her hazy memories of growing up in rural Pennsylvania and coming to terms with her sexuality as she tries to make sense of her father's suicide. Her father was secretly gay and took his life shortly after Bechdel came out as a lesbian. We speak to Bechdel, Kron and Tesori, and air highlights from the Broadway musical.


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

AMY GOODMAN: In a Democracy Now! special, we turn now to the acclaimed Broadway musical Fun Home, which swept the Tony Awards last month. Composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist Lisa Kron made history as the first female duo to win a Tony Award for best musical score. Fun Home is also the first-ever Broadway musical to feature a lesbian protagonist. This is a video montage from the hit performance.

SMALL ALISON: [played by Sydney Lucas, singing] I wanna play airplane
I wanna play airplane
I wanna play airplane
I wanna put my arms out and fly
Like the Red Baron in his Sopwith Camel
No, wait
Like Superman up in the sky
'Til I can see all of Pennsylvania

ALISON: [played by Beth Malone] Caption -
My dad and I were exactly alike.

SMALL ALISON: I see everything!

ALISON: Caption -
My dad and I were nothing alike.

[singing] Maps show you what is simple and true
Try laying out a bird's eye view
Not what he told you
Just what you see
What do you know
That's not your dad's mythology?

BRUCE: [played by Michael Cerveris, singing] I guess I'm older.
And it's harder when you're older to begin
Peeling plaster,
Sagging roof,
Two missing stairs,
A buckled wall.
I'm fired up to do this,
But on my own for it all
So much damage,
Broken windows,
Pipes are [bleep],
Crap veneer.
It's hours later,
Jesus, I'm still standing here.

SMALL ALISON: [singing] Your swagger and your bearing
and the just right clothes you're wearing
Your short hair and your dungarees
And your lace up boots.
And your keys oh
Your ring of keys.
I know you
I know you
I know you

AMY GOODMAN: The musical is based on the 2006 best-selling graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. The memoir is a poignant exploration of family, memory, first love, coming out and a daughter's relationship with her father. The title comes from the Bechdels' nickname for their family business: a funeral home. Throughout the memoir, Alison Bechdel, the artist and protagonist, sketches out her hazy memories of growing up in rural Pennsylvania and coming to terms with her own sexuality as she tries to make sense of her father's suicide. Her father was secretly gay and took his life shortly after Alison came out as a lesbian. Incidents are told and retold in light of new information, each panel painstakingly drawn in black line art with a grey-green ink wash. In the musical, Bechdel is depicted by three actresses at different stages of her life. Before Fun Home, Bechdel was best known for her long-running comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For. Last year, she won a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant."

Well, Nermeen Shaikh and I interviewed Alison Bechdel, along with Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori, who adapted the memoir for Broadway. I started by asking Alison Bechdel to talk about her life story as she tells it in Fun Home.

ALISON BECHDEL: It's my story of my childhood, basically, growing up in Pennsylvania with my dad, my closeted father, and realizing that I was a lesbian, realizing that I was this different kind of kid, growing up. It was a story that felt - I felt like I could not tell that story for a long time, because it was revealing these very intimate family secrets. People didn't know about my father's sexuality. People didn't know that he had killed himself. And actually, no one is absolutely certain it was a suicide; we just - the family sort of feels that's what it was. He was hit by a truck. So those felt like very problematic things to make public. And I had felt for a long time like this was a story that was somehow important, to me, personally, but just also a culturally important story somehow, because it just - it showed how differently my generation of gay people could go on to live their lives, as opposed to my father's generation, who - you know, he came of age in the '50s, on the other side of this great watershed moment of the Stonewall rebellion. And I came of age on the other side, and I got to be out, you know, have a sort of whole, happy life. And my father didn't get to do that. So it's kind of a book about those different historical paths.

AMY GOODMAN: When did you understand that your father was gay?

ALISON BECHDEL: Well, that was the strange part, was I didn't find out until I came out to my family as a lesbian when I was in college. And my mother told me. My father never really had a very direct conversation with me about it. And this all happened in a very condensed little period of time. I came out to my parents in February, and in July my father died. So there was a lot of upheaval in my family, in my personal psyche. And the book is a way of going back and trying to sort out that incredibly confusing time.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: What do you think the different things are, to the extent that you can identify them, that led you to decide to make these things public? I mean, you say, which is true, that it's culturally a very important story, but the work that preceded this one, to what extent were you preparing yourself to make more and more revelations, as it were, about your private life?

ALISON BECHDEL: Well, yeah, I think that I was, in some sense, preparing to tell this story over the course of two decades of writing my comic strip. I made a decision soon after I got out of college to draw this lesbian comic strip. I liked drawing cartoons. I was coming out as a lesbian, getting very involved in the feminist and lesbian activities and stuff here in New York City. I lived here in New York in the early '80s. And I started publishing these cartoons about people like me and my friends. And -

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you call it Dykes to Watch Out For?

ALISON BECHDEL: I can't even remember. It was just a - just something that came off the top of my head. I had this friend in college who I would write letters to and started drawing some of these early prototypes of the comics. She somehow inspired this certain kind of silly mood. And I just labeled one of these crazy lesbians "Dykes to Watch Out For, Plate Number 27," even though I had - that was the first one I had drawn, and I didn't have 26 other ones. It just struck me as funny. And, you know, I like it's got a double meaning. It's like, oh, look out for them, they're great, and look out for them, or you'll get in trouble. You know?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: You also said, in another interview, that in writing Fun Home, you wanted to give your father a, quote, "proper funeral."

ALISON BECHDEL: Yeah. I mean, when my father died, it was under the cloud of all these misunderstandings. You know, I felt like people didn't know who he really was, what his life had really been like. And we had this bizarre, very conventional funeral for him in our family funeral home, which felt just wrong to me. I mean, I don't know. I had grown up in the funeral business, and we would always kind of joke about, I don't know, just how kind of bizarre American mourning rituals are, that they really are not very helpful.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's turn to a clip from Fun Home, "Come to the Fun Home," from the musical. You and your brothers perform this.

SMALL ALISON: Fun Home commercial. Take seven million billion thousand.

JOHN: [played by Zell Steele Morrow, singing] Your uncle died
You're feeling low
You've got to bury your momma
but you don't know where to go
Your papa needs his final rest
You got you got you got to give them the best

SMALL ALISON AND CHRISTIAN: [played by Sydney Lucas and Oscar Williams, singing] Come to the Fun Home

JOHN: [singing] That's the Bechdel Funeral Home, baby

SMALL ALISON AND CHRISTIAN: [singing] The Bechdel Fun Home

JOHN: [singing] Next to Baker's Department Store

THREE KIDS: [singing] In Beech Creek!

SMALL ALISON AND CHRISTIAN: [singing] The Bechdel Fun Home

JOHN: [singing] We take dead bodies ev'ry day of the week so

THREE KIDS: [singing] You've got no reason to roam
Use the Bechdel Funeral Home
What it is, what it is
hoo hoo hoo
What it is, what it is now, baby

SMALL ALISON AND CHRISTIAN: [singing] Sock it to me
Sock it to me
Sock it to me

AMY GOODMAN: "Come to the Fun Home." That's from the musical, Fun Home, and we're going to speak with the women who wrote the book, who wrote the music, the lyrics and the music. But right now we're talking to Alison Bechdel. Now, this - is this very far from what you did? I mean, reading the tragicomic, reading Fun Home, you guys did perform.

ALISON BECHDEL: Well, we certainly played around in the funeral home. I mean, it was this, you know, funny stage set, in a way, like always waiting for a funeral to happen. And we had carts that we'd push around and play with, that the folding chairs went on. And, you know, it was a fun place to play. And when Lisa Kron wrote the play, she focused in on that really fun aspect.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let's go to another clip from the song, "It All Comes Back," from the musical, Fun Home.

ALISON: [played by Beth Malone, singing] There's you.
And there's me.
But now I'm the one who's forty-three
And stuck.
I can't find my way through.
Just like you.
Am I just like you?

BRUCE: [played by Michael Cerveris, singing] A sign that he was here
And made his work.

ALISON: [singing] I can't abide romantic notions
Of some vague long ago.

BRUCE AND ALISON: [singing] I want to know what's true,
Dig deep into who
And what
And why
And when
Until now gives way to then.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was a clip from "It All Comes Back" from the musical, Fun Home.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Alison Bechdel. Now, tell us about your dad. When it comes to his secret gay life, it was more than that. And talk about the young men he'd bring into the house and what you understood.

ALISON BECHDEL: Well, my father - my father was a high school teacher, and I later learned that he was carrying on with some of his underage students, you know, kids in like 11th grade or something. And he'd almost gotten in - he had got arrested once for buying a kid a drink, but really I think it was an issue of him, you know, having some sexual stuff going on with this boy. So there was always this threat that it was going to become public. And what would happen to my family and my mother?

AMY GOODMAN: He was charged?

ALISON BECHDEL: He was charged just with the underage drinking, not with anything else. So my mother was living with this constant anxiety that somehow this was going to become public, and there was just a great deal of strain.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let's go to the song about your mom. And maybe you can weigh in here before we turn to this. Your mother isn't a - is not the pre-eminent figure in the play, in the musical, but you ended up writing a book about her, Are You My Mother? It's not - she's not the main figure in Fun Home. So before we talk about this really revealing song, which is the highlight for the figure who's your mother, talk about her.

ALISON BECHDEL: Oh, my mother was an amazing person. I keep thinking, what would it be like for her to see this play? She died two years ago, just before it opened at The Public. And I think it would have been very, very painful for her to see the play. But my mother was also an actress. Like that was - she was a high school teacher by profession, but her passion was for acting. And she would often be doing summer stock as I was growing up. So it's funny to me that she's become a character on the stage. You know, I think she would have gotten a big kick out of that, in a way.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask a second part. It's to do with how your mother related to your father in raising the three of you, because, in a sense, she was a counterforce. She knew there was something wrong.

ALISON BECHDEL: Yeah. Oh, I don't know. I feel like I could probably write 17 more books about my family and what exactly was going on. But my mother, yeah, she knew about my father's relationships with these boys and men, and, I think, considered leaving at some point but couldn't. You know, she had three kids. She consulted with the family doctor, with her priest, and everyone said, "Oh, you've got to stay, stay with your husband." So, she was a very dutiful person, and she did that.

AMY GOODMAN: Though didn't she tell him she was going to leave him a few weeks before -

ALISON BECHDEL: And finally, part of this crazy constellation of events in this few months between when I came out and when my father died, one of those things was my mother finally decided she had had it, and she asked my father for a divorce. So, that's part of why we think that he probably intentionally stepped in front of the truck. It's just suddenly striking me as very unseemly that I'm going around talking about my family like this, even though I've written a book and now they're in a play. But somehow it's still - you know, it's very painful, intimate stuff.

AMY GOODMAN: I think that's why it is so powerful in your book, Fun Home. I mean, the way you convey it in - I mean, and I don't think you're insulted by this - in cartoons, in a graphic novel, is so powerful. It changes the whole medium. Speaking of which, even the song, the song about your mom, "Days and Days." Let's go to a clip.

HELEN: [played by Judy Kuhn, singing] Days and days and days -
That's how it happens:
Days and days and days
Made of lunches
And car rides
And shirts and socks
And grades
And piano
And no one clocks the day you disappear.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! We'll be back in a minute.

HELEN: [played by Judy Kuhn, singing] Days and days and days -
That's how it happens:
Days and days and days
Made of posing
And bragging
And fits of rage
And boys - my god, some of them underage!
And, oh, how did it all happen here?

Don't you come back here.
I didn't raise you
To give away your days
Like me.

News Thu, 30 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Working for the Man: A New Way to Build Community Economy

A timebank is a system of mutual credit, where a member provides a service to someone else in the timebank and gets credit, which they can redeem for that same amount of time to get something they need from another person in the network. Timebanks capture our imaginations and allow us to replace some of our financial pressures with community supports. Engaging in timebanking lets us enhance our social ties, stretch our budgets in this money-based economy, and free up our time. Timebanking works beautifully for growing informal community economies, where people used to meet their basic needs before they were swallowed up by the monetary economy.

But timebanking can't do everything. It's great for exchanging the abundant resources of caregiving, creativity, civic engagement, and community building - many of the things that tend to stay in the informal community economy and are often un- or undervalued. But we also need ways to help support local businesses in the face of global competition, and for some things we simply need money. Perhaps even more, we need to rebuild our commons and re-learn how to share.

Now we're working to redirect competitive economic dynamics by designing and developing a more cooperative, decentralized alternative to help resources flow within and between our communities. We can supplement timebanking and enhance its impact by forming cooperatives around a common purpose, like cooperatively managed pools of money (community savings and investment pools) and other forms of mutual credit and shared resources. We're calling this cooperative framework Mutual Aid Networks, or MANs.

The mission of MANs is to create the means for everyone to discover and succeed in work they want to do, with the support of their community. We can be the job creators. By redesigning our own work lives and working together, we can make the economy work for us and our needs. Instead of going out and finding a job - working for "the man" - we want to create a situation where you can design your ideal work life, as a whole human being, working for the MAN. With timebanking helping to identify and catalyze the exchange of people's time and talents toward a common purpose, the additional common resources enable people to save their money together, invest it, and then choose how they allocate funding to accomplish common goals.

We help people in the local network figure out how to rely on each other, pool existing resources, and leverage them to hire their friends and community members to make their own dreams and projects a reality. For example, you could form a MAN for a specific purpose such as food security or a specific issue such as racial disparity or disability inclusion, by connecting with other people who already are working on the issue. A MAN can form at any scale, for any purpose, as long as it upholds our core principles.

A real-world example from Dane County in Madison, WI, involves a neighborhood called Allied Drive that has been dealing with many challenges, including poverty, food scarcity, and incarceration. Several activities in this neighborhood are linked to the Dane County TimeBank. Different timebank projects have been addressing a variety of these needs, including poverty and diverting youth out of the school-to-prison pipeline. A local cooperative and the very first local MAN, called the Allied Community Co-op, has been created by residents and neighborhood organizations in partnership with the timebank. It has organized community wellness activities, a small store, and garden projects.

The co-op also began a project called PowerTime, where we partnered with our local utility company to train a number of neighborhood people to do energy consulting, for which they earned timebank hours. These energy consultants worked with neighborhood families to make small, energy-saving changes. On average, households participating in the energy consultations reduced energy use by 10%.

The vision for PowerTime was to build participation in the co-op and energy project and have the participating families track the dollars they saved on their utility bills. A percentage of these savings would be pooled for cooperatively managed projects. In the case of the Allied Drive neighborhood, the goal was to generate a mutual savings pool to get better transportation for youth and people with medical needs, and obtain good food in an area with no grocery stores. Everyone in the neighborhood benefits when local assets are pooled and leveraged for the common good.

Allied Co-op has since shifted gears to respond to a growing shortage of food resources, but the energy project will continue. The next step for the Allied Co-op is to create a neighborhood resource center, which includes our timebank store, space for all the community organizations and projects, shared computers and sewing machines, joint working space, and a buying club for food. It will also include a neighborhood college where neighbors propose and teach the classes, earning timebank hours.

We're currently working with people around the world to establish 15 MAN pilot projects, sharing all of our learning so we can determine what works best under varying local conditions. Most pilot sites are starting from an existing initiative like a timebank, a local currency, or a co-op - whose members want to add another piece of the MAN framework and experiment with how these collaborative exchange strategies can support each other to address a specific community goal.

In service to this learning and sharing, we have established an umbrella cooperative with global membership, called the Main MAN. The Main MAN, incorporated here in Wisconsin where we have excellent cooperative law and history, connects local projects and global supporters. We are experimenting with member dues and rebates. We are also creating an egalitarian and inclusive decision-making process to determine how money gets allocated.

It's actually a way to play with the community savings pool model. In a co-op, you collect member dues and you can provide member rebates. But in our global co-op, we will base rebates on many different kinds of contributions, not just monetary. Ours will be based on such things as work on local projects and training initiatives. This mechanism for distributing resources helps get them where they are most needed.

Please join us! We're offering a web summit, an online learning series. We're also inviting people here to Madison, Wisconsin, on August 20-28 for a MAN Up Summit. We'll host trainings, collaboration sessions, work sprints, learning games, and a launch party. Come be with us and/or help us fund others to get here!  

To start a timebank or a MAN project, or to learn more, visit our website at or contact Stephanie Rearick at

Opinion Thu, 30 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
California's Drought and the Politics of Inequality

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in April, mandating urban centers to reduce water usage by 25 percent.

His announcement came after Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, sounded the alarm that California water reservoirs and groundwater supplies are dramatically contracting. The state has only one year left of Mother Nature's ancient aquifers if climate change continues and the state doesn't curb usage.

Since Brown's announcement, the situation has worsened. Mountaintops in California barely received a touch of snow in the spring, and rainfall hasn't yet made up for the last few years of below normal precipitation.

California is four years into an intense drought, and scientists have calculated that this year will be the driest in more than four centuries. A record number of fires have burned across the state after brief rains produced sprigs of greenery that quickly dried up, becoming starter fuel. Cal Fire reported that it reacted to 1,100 fires so far this year, almost twice as many as usual for the same period.

The ecology of the state is in deep crisis. Photo essays have captured the apocalyptic drama of boats resting close to the bottom of once full reservoirs and old ghost towns that were once submerged reappearing. Farming continues to suck groundwater at deadly rates, and various parts of the California are sinking by a foot a year. This isn't just affecting agriculture fields in the Central Valley, but big infrastructure, like bridges.

Walking around working-class neighborhoods, one can't help but notice brown lawns and dying plants, which shows how seriously people are taking the task of water conservation.Opinion polls show the water crisis and drought has become the number-one issue for Californians.

What's striking is who's willing to conserve - and who isn't.

Forty-eight percent of wealthier homeowners with incomes above $100,000 a year say it would be "difficult" to conserve water. While many people with more modest means have replanted with indigenous and drought-tolerant plants, the well-to-do appear to be resisting with vigor.

Conservative talk show host Steve Yuhas is a case in point. He recently ranted on social media that rich homeowners "should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful."

Later, he said in an interview, "We pay significant property taxes based on where we live. And, no, we're not all equal when it comes to water."

That's true, unfortunately. We aren't "all equal" when it comes to access to vital resources, like water - or food or housing, for that matter. Rancho Santa Fe, where Yuhas lives, is a gated community with multi-acre estates, country clubs and ranches. There, water consumption has gone up by 9 percent since Brown's mandatory 25 percent reduction went into effect.

Over the last few months, investigative reports have shown the disparities in household consumption. These stories have given voice to the people who don't live on estates like Yuhas.

One such article in the New York Times juxtaposed those living in two very different neighborhoods. According to the Times, stay-at-home mom Alysia Thomas lives in the working class city of Compton, California, and "tells her children to skip a bath on days when they do not play outside; that holds down the water bill." Lillian Barrera, a housekeeper, serves dinner to her family on paper plates to conserve, because it saves money.

Pediatric neurologist Peter L. Himber, however, lives in Cowan Heights, and decided to stop watering his vast estate, even though he had "spent $100,000 to turn into a green California paradise, seeding it with a carpet of rich native grass and installing a sprinkler system fit for a golf course."

Another resident of Cowan Heights, John Sears, a retired food-company executive complained, "If we cut back 35 percent and all these homes just let everything go, what's green will turn brown. Tell me how the fire risk will increase."

Concerns about the drought have motivated many Californians to conserve water, but it's also important to underscore the fact that the economic situation facing working people had already forced them to conserve, even prior to mandatory restrictions.

One example from the Bay Area: The historically Black and working-class city of Oakland uses 57 gallons per person per day, compared to Diablo, an elite community a 30-minute drive away, where use is at 345 gallons per person. Examples like this run throughout the state and show that the owners of multimillion-dollar homes and estates haven't blinked an eye at Brown's proposed fines of $100 for consuming too much water.

Ordinary people are often blamed for consuming too much, but the reality shows that poorer Californians are often the first who are forced to conserve - due to their limited paychecks.

California has become one of the most unequal states in the US The vast majority of people in California are living paycheck to paycheck. They are faced with skyrocketing rents and housing costs. Research now shows a family needs to earn $26 a hour to afford to live in a two-bedroom apartment in California - an hourly wage that is largely out of reach for most residents.

Rising class inequality and, along with it, different perspectives on water consumption have also shown up in gourmet "water tasting bars" in Los Angeles that charge $50 for a sampling.

The focus on the consumption of the rich should be extended to the heads of corporations that continue to make a profit by stealing and/or polluting the majority of the water consumed in California. Brown has refused to place limits on the expansion of oil and gas production using hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," which consumes tens of millions of gallons of water. Meanwhile, the byproduct waste is being pumped into aquifers to dispose of it, contaminating billions more gallons.

The cold hard facts about water usage show that the bulk of California's water is going to big agriculture and commodity food production, not individual consumption. According to one report, of the 12 million acre-feet of total water lost yearly since 2011, roughly two-thirds are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley.

How corporations and the rich consume this vital resource in order to make a profit at the expense of ecosystems and ordinary people points toward the much bigger systematic and structural changes that need to be made if we are going to stop California from being bled dry.

For one, this brings up a much-needed discussion about how our food and energy need to be produced sustainably, and why commodity-based food production for markets is a dead end.

Technological fixes being pushed as solutions today avoid looking at how water is being polluted by hydraulic fracturing or wasted by big agriculture. Some Kern County farms are reportedly using "refurbished water" from oil and gas production to water their fields - without knowing the potential consequences.

There also is discussion about expanding the development of costly desalination plants. But in addition to consuming vast amounts of energy, there is so far no sustainable method for disposing the salt-waste byproduct from large-scale desalination.

Ultimately, California's water crisis is a social and a political problem that touches on how we need to conserve precious resources - something that the profit system doesn't take into account. Meanwhile, the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels is increasing CO2 emissions and climate change, which is causing hotter climates and severe droughts. A recent record heat wave in India killed 2,500, and Pakistan is facing a similar heat wave.

This increasing crisis is a deeply human issue - not only in terms of the effects of climate change and related disasters, but the human labor used in the process of creating profit for the rich. As the drought was making the national news, farmworkers in Mexico went on strike over working conditions and abysmal pay. In California, migrant and low-wage workers in the agricultural industry face the same conditions and issues, not to mention higher unemployment now due to the drought.

Just under the surface of the politics of water in California is a history of incredible injustice and racism. Water rights in California were established during the Gold Rush eraas part of the colonial history of the state alongside a genocidal war against indigenous peoples. Aspects of water usage became privatized during an endless drive for profit based on land- and resource-grabs as the state was gobbled up by the US

The "first in time, first in right" doctrine - a legal precedent that those who first use a resource are given the right over others to use it in the future - continues to impact indigenous communities alongside our ecosystems.

Indigenous rights and self-determination are therefore also intertwined with a fight for a more sustainable California. In discussions surrounding the drought, indigenous tribes in California have called for treaty rights to be upheld in order to protect fish, waterways and our ecology. In the words of Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, indigenous nations:

deserve some benefits from the water projects that have already been built, and we deserve a stronger say in how water is allocated and stored. If tribes are given a real place at the decision-makers' table, we can help guide California's water system back to a place where we can withstand a few years with low rainfall. Trees, wolves, beavers, delta smelt, salmon and a beautiful estuary are necessary for California's healthy water system.

The stakes are high: This crisis is severe and goes well beyond the drought in the Golden State. Due to global warming and climate change, not only are California's aquifers being bled dry, but according to NASA, the world is running out of fresh water - with 21 of the world's 37 largest aquifers having passed their "sustainability tipping points."

Big solutions to solve the ecological crisis are what are needed - system change, not climate change.

News Thu, 30 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Money Primary

In this exclusive election, Jeb is way out front of the GOP pack with a record haul of $100 million, while Hillary has bagged $45 million to lead among the Dems.

Hold on. Here come the Koch brothers from out of nowhere, overwhelming all the other campaigns with nearly a billion dollars for their secretive effort to put the presidency under their private control.

Thanks to the Supreme Court's corporate-friendly Citizens United ruling, running for America's highest office in our democratic republic has been perverted into a gold rush. Candidates shamelessly grub for cash, molding their policy proposals to fit the narrow interests of plutocratic elites.

The donors and political sycophants involved in this obscene corruption of the system are playing with dynamite.

By using money to shove the vast majority of people out of the democratic process, they're mocking America's essential egalitarian ideal that we're all in this together, destroying their own moral legitimacy, and fueling an explosive fury among alienated voters.

Some 84 percent of Americans tell pollsters that money has too much influence in elections, resulting in policies that favor the donors. The majority also rejects the Supreme Court's coddling of fat cat donors, with three-fourths of the people wanting limits on how much any donor can give and demanding that "dark money" front groups reveal the sources of their money.

Of course, the aloof political-money class won't stop their own corruption, but We the People can. And we must. To help, go to

Opinion Thu, 30 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Four Ways the GOP Wants to Attack Planned Parenthood

We are on week three of what has been hinted at being a 12 week long media blitz attacking Planned Parenthood, and GOP politicians have been responding beautifully to the prompts provided to them by the anti-abortion movement. What has in the past simply been an annual (failed) push to defund the reproductive health care provider has instead turned into a frenzy of investigations across the country, led by some of the most anti-abortion, anti-birth control legislators in the country.

As the anti-abortion group "Center for Medical Progress" releases yet another new (and this time graphic) Youtube video, attacks on Planned Parenthood (and even independent abortion providers, too) continue. Here are just four of the latest ways the anti-abortion movement hopes to close them for good.

1.) Arrest Some Doctors

Some politicians are so completely convinced that what they see in the videos is illegal, they are already calling for the police to step in and throw providers in jail. "Top Republicans in Oklahoma are launching a campaign to boot Planned Parenthood from their state and shut down the abortion industry's leading player, arresting its doctors," reports, a rightwing news site. But Randy Brogan, the Oklahoma GOP chairman, is going beyond caring if tissue was donated or sold, and instead believes that the state should ignore Roe v. Wade and arrest doctors for performing abortions in the first place. "'As Chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, I call on the Governor and legislators to completely end the practice of abortion in Oklahoma,' Brogdon wrote in the email, adding that the state should '[s]hut Planned Parenthood down immediately for their illegal actions, and prosecute the abortion doctors who violate their oath to 'do no harm.'" Side note: Planned Parenthood doesn't perform abortions in the state of Oklahoma.

2.) Hack Their Websites

At first it sounded like a total scam, but allegedly one or more abortion opponent claims he or she "hacked" the Planned Parenthood website and got access to employee data. "Anti-abortion activists have hacked Planned Parenthood's website, gaining access to its online database and employee information, according to the group," reports the Christian Science Monitor. "The organization has turned to the FBI and the Department of Justice for help with its cybersecurity issues. Meanwhile, the hackers, self-proclaimed 'social justice warriors' are threatening to release the company's internal emails, the Daily Dot reported." Planned Parenthood hasn't been able to confirm their claims, but says if it is true it could put employees at risk of harassment or worse.

3.) Get Them Out of Schools

From Kansas to Arizona, a number of states already blocked Planned Parenthood workers (or even volunteers) from being able to offer sex ed or other resources to local schools, but now there is a push to get them out of all of the states. "Valerie Huber, president and CEO of the National Abstinence Education Association, told EAG the shocking footage, the second clip of which was released Tuesday, could convince parents not to allow the group to teach their children about the birds and the bees," reports "'We have long advocated that any group that normalizes or encourages teen sexual activity should not have access to students,' Huber said. 'That applies to (Planned Parenthood) and other groups, so this new revelation does not change our stance. (But) it strengthened our antipathy to their fitness as role models for our youth. Regardless of one's stance on abortion, this footage creates a visceral reaction to our sensibilities and humanity.'"

4.) Ban "Remains"

As someone who has actually read all the transcripts from the first two videos, the thing that stuck out the most to me was the point in which Dr. Nucolata suggested to the biofirm that if they would simply offer to take clinic's bio remains - all of them - the clinics would be more than happy to let them keep whatever tissue was usable, because they have such a difficult time disposing of it. They then began to discuss the problems of disposing of products of conception, from finding firms who are willing to an inability to dispose on their own because of regulations. Now, Americans United for Life is hoping to leverage that crisis by creating a model bill that will make it even more difficult to dispose of remains, hoping that clinics will then be forced to stop doing abortions all together. "[Dan]McConchie, of the AUL, told the Guardian the group had drafted a model 'Dignified Final Disposition Act' and was tweaking it in response to the clandestine videos. 'We're working with legislators. There's a lot of interest,'" reports the Guardian. "The proposed law would mandate that fetal remains be cremated or buried. If cremated, they would have to be cremated separately from medical waste and a county medical examiner would have to authorise the cremation."

Three weeks, four new tactics. And just think, we still have weeks to go.

Opinion Thu, 30 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Why We All Need to Learn the Word "Anthropogenic"

The wettest rainforest in the continental United States had gone up in flames and the smoke was so thick, so blanketing, that you could see it miles away. Deep in Washington's Olympic National Park, the aptly named Paradise Fire, undaunted by the dampness of it all, was eating the forest alive and destroying an ecological Eden. In this season of drought across the West, there have been far bigger blazes but none quite so symbolic or offering quite such grim news. It isn't the size of the fire (though it is the largest in the park's history), nor its intensity. It's something else entirely - the fact that it shouldn't have been burning at all. When fire can eat a rainforest in a relatively cool climate, you know the Earth is beginning to burn.

And here's the thing: the Olympic Peninsula is my home. Its destruction is my personal nightmare and I couldn't stay away.

Smoke Gets in My Eyes

"What a bummer! Can't even see Mount Olympus," a disappointed tourist exclaimed from the Hurricane Ridge visitor center. Still pointing his camera at the hazy mountain-scape, he added that "on a sunny day like this" he would ordinarily have gotten a "clear shot of the range." Indeed, on a good day, that vantage point guarantees you a postcard-perfect view of the Olympic Mountains and their glaciers, making Hurricane Ridge the most visited location in the park, with the Hoh rainforest coming in a close second. And a lot of people have taken photos there. With its more than three million annual visitors, the park barely trails its two more famous western cousins, Yosemite and Yellowstone, on the tourist circuit.

Days of rain had come the weekend before, soaking the rainforest without staunching the Paradise Fire. The wetness did, however, help create those massive clouds of smoke that wrecked the view miles away on that blazing hot Sunday, July 19th.  Though no fire was visible from the visitor center - it was the old-growth rainforest of the Queets River Valley on the other side of Mount Olympus that was burning - massive plumes of smoke were rising from the Elwha River and Long Creek valleys.

By then, I felt as if smoke had become my companion. I had first encountered it on another hot, sunny Sunday two weeks earlier.

On July 5th, I had gone to Hurricane Ridge with Finis Dunaway, historian of environmental visual culture and author of Seeing Green: The Use and Abuse of American Environmental Images. As this countryside is second nature to me, I felt the shock and sadness the moment we piled out of the car. In a season when the meadows and hills should have been lush green and carpeted by wildflowers, they were rusty brown and bone-dry.

Normally, even when such meadows are still covered in snow, glacier lilies still poke through. Avalanche lilies burst into riotous bloom as soon as the snow melts, followed by lupines, paintbrushes, tiger lilies, and the Sitka columbines, just to begin a list. Those meadows with their chorus of colors are a wonder to photograph, but the flowers also provide much needed nutrition to birds and animals, including the endemic Olympic marmots that prefer, as the National Park Service puts it, "fresh, tender, flowering plants such as lupine and glacier lilies."

Snow normally lingers on these subalpine meadows until the end of June or early July, but last winter and spring were "anything but typical," as the summer issue of the park's quarterly newspaper, the Bugler, pointed out. January and February temperatures at the Hurricane Ridge station were "over six degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average."

By late February, "less than three percent of normal" snowpack remained on the Olympic Mountains and the meadows, normally still covered by more than six feet of snow, "were bare." As the Bugler also noted, recent data and scientific projections suggest that "this warming trend with less snowpack is something the Pacific Northwest should get used to... What does this mean for summer wildflowers, cold-water loving salmon, and myriad animals that depend on a flush of summer vegetation watered by melting snow?" The answer, unfortunately, isn't complicated: it spells disaster for the ecology of the park.

Move on to the rainforest and the news is no less grim. This January, it got 14.07 inches of precipitation, which is 26% less than normal; February was 17% less; March was almost normal; and April was off by 23%. Worse yet, what precipitation there was generally fell as rain, not snow, and the culprit was those way-higher-than-average winter temperatures. Then the drought that already had much of the West Coast in its grip arrived in the rainforest. In May, precipitation fell to 75% less than normal and in June it was a staggering 96% less than normal, historic lows for those months. The forest floor dried up, as did the moss and lichens that hang in profusion from the trees, creating kindling galore and priming the forest for potential ignition by lightning.

That day, I was intent on showing Finis the spot along the Hurricane Hill trail where, in 1997, I had taken a picture of a black-tailed deer. That photo proved a turning point in my life, winning the Slide of the Year award from the Boeing photography club and leading me eventually to give up the security of a corporate career and start a conservation project in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

As it happened, it wouldn't be a day for nostalgia or for seeing much of anything.  On reaching Hurricane Hill, we found that the Olympic Mountains were obscured by smoke from the Paradise Fire. Meanwhile, looking north toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the Salish Sea, all that we could see was an amber-lit deep haze. More smoke, in other words, coming from more than 70 wildfires burning in British Columbia, Canada. As I write this, there are 14 active wildfires in Washington and five in Oregon, while British Columbia recently registered 185 of them.

So if you happen to live in the drought-stricken Southwest and are dreaming of relocating to the cool, moist Pacific Northwest, think again. On the Olympic Peninsula, it's haze to the horizon and the worst drought since 1895.

A Rainforest in a National Park

For visitors to the Olympic Peninsula, it seems obvious that a temperate rainforest - itself a kind of natural wonder - should be in a national park. As it happens, getting it included proved to be one of the most drawn-out battles in American conservation history, which makes seeing it destroyed all the more bitter.

Two centuries ago, expanses of coastal temperate rainforests stretched from northern California to southern Alaska. Today, only about 4% of the California redwoods remain, while in Oregon and Washington, the forests are less than 10% of what they once were.  Still, even in a degraded state, this eco-region, including British Columbia and Alaska, contains more than a quarter of the world's remaining coastal temperate rainforest.

In the era of climate change, this matters, because the Pacific coastal rainforest is so productive that it has a much higher biomass than comparable areas of any tropical rainforest. In translation: the Pacific rainforests store an impressive amount of carbon in their wood and soil and so contribute to keeping the climate cool. However, when that wood goes up in flames, as it has recently, it releases the stored carbon into the atmosphere at a rapid rate. The massive plumes of smoke we saw at Hurricane Ridge offer visual testimony to a larger ecological disaster to come.

The old-growth rainforest that stretches across the western valleys of the Olympic National Park is its crown jewel. As UNESCO wrote in recognizing the park as a World Heritage Site, it includes "the best example of intact and protected temperate rainforest in the Pacific Northwest." In those river valleys, annual rainfall is measured not in inches but in feet, and it's the wettest place in the continental United States. There you will find living giants: a Sitka spruce more than 1,000 years old; Douglas fir more than 300 feet tall; mountain hemlock at 150 feet; yellow cedars that are nearly 12 feet in diameter; and a western red cedar whose circumference is more than 60 feet.

The rainforest is home to innumerable species, most of which remain hidden from sight. Still, while walking its trails, you can sometimes hear the bugle or get a glimpse of Roosevelt elk amid moss-draped, fog-shrouded bigleaf maples. (The largest herd of wild elk in North America finds refuge here.) And when you do, you'll know that you've entered a Tolkienesque landscape. Those elk, by the way, were named in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt who, in 1909, protected 615,000 acres of the peninsula, as Mount Olympus National Monument.

Why not include a rainforest in a national park? That was the question being asked at the turn of the twentieth century and Henry Graves, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, answered it in definitive fashion this way: "It would be great mistake to include in parks great bodies of commercial timber."

Despite the power of the timber industry and the Forest Service, however, five committed citizens with few resources somehow managed to protect the peninsula's last remaining rainforest. "They did it by involving the public," environmentalist and former park ranger Carsten Lien writes in his Olympic Battleground: Creating and Defending Olympic National Park. He adds, "Preserving the environment through direct citizen activism, as we know it today, had its beginnings in the Olympic National Park battle."

In 1938, the national monument was converted to Olympic National Park and a significant amount of rainforest was included.  As Lien would discover in the late 1950s, however, the Park Service, despite its rhetoric of stewardship, continued to let timber interests log there. Today, such practices are long past, though commercial logging continues to play a significant part in the economy of the peninsula in national, state, and private forests.

A Fire That Just Won't Stop

Once the fire began, I just couldn't keep away.  On a rainy July 10th, for instance, listening to James Taylor's Fire and Rain, I drove toward the Queets River Valley to learn more about the Paradise Fire so that I could "talk about things to come."

At the Kalaloch campground, I asked the first park employee I ran into whether the rain, then coming down harder, might extinguish the fire? "It will slow down the fire's spread," she told me, "but won't put it out. There's too much fuel in that valley."

The next morning, with the rain still falling steadily and the fire still burning, I stood at the trailhead to the valley thinking about what another park employee had told me. "The sad thing," she said, "is that the fire is burning in the most primitive of the three river valleys." In other words, I was standing mere miles away from the destruction of one of the most primeval parts of the forest. As Queets was also one of the more difficult locations to visit, less attention was being given to the fire than if, say, it were in the always popular Hoh valley.

In a sense, the Paradise Fire has been burning out of sight of the general public. Information about it has been coming from press releases and updates prepared by the National Park Service. Though it is doing a good job of sharing information, environmental disasters and their lessons often sink in most deeply when they are observed and absorbed into collective memory via the stories, fears, and hopes of ordinary citizens.

I had breakfast at the Kalaloch Lodge restaurant, not far from the Queets, while the rain was still falling. "When will the sun come out?" an elderly woman at the next table asked the waitress as if lodging a complaint with management. "The whole weekend we've been here it's rained continuously."

"I'm so happy that finally we got three days of rain," the waitress responded politely. "This year we got 12 inches. Usually we get about 12 feet. It's been bad for trees and all the life in our area." In fact, the peninsula has received over 51 inches of rain, mostly last winter, but her point couldn't have been more on target. "It has been so dry that the salmon can't move in the river," she added. Her voice lit up a bit as she continued, "With this rain, the rivers will rise and the salmon will be able to go upriver to spawn. The salmon will return."

I asked where she was from. "Quinault Nation," she said, citing one of the local native tribes dependent both nutritionally and culturally on those salmon.

"The Queets, the largest river flowing off the west side of the Olympics, is running at less than a third its normal volume," the Seattle Times reported. "[B]ad news for the wild salmon runs, steelhead, bull trout, and cutthroat trout." In addition to the disappearing snowpack and severe drought, the iconic glaciers of the Olympic Mountains are melting rapidly, which will likely someday spell doom for the park's rivers and its vibrant ecology. According to Bill Baccus, a scientist at the park, over the last 30 years, those glaciers have shrunk by about 35%, a direct consequence of the impact of climate change.

After breakfast, I took off for the Hoh Valley. At its visitor center, a ranger described the battle underway with the Paradise Fire. Summing up how dire the situation was, he said, "Our goal is confinement, not containment." Normally, success in fighting a wildfire is measured by what percentage of it has been contained, but not with the Paradise. "Safety of the firefighters and safety of the human communities are our two priorities right now," the ranger explained. As a result, the National Park Service is letting the fire burn further into wilderness areas unfought, while trying to stop its spread toward human communities and into commercially valuable timberlands outside the park.

For firefighters, combating such a blaze in an old-growth rainforest with steep hills is, at best, an impossibly dangerous business. Large trees are "falling down regularly," firefighter Dave Felsen told the Seattle Times. "You can hear cracking and you try to move, but it's so thick in there that there is no escape route if something is coming at you."

Besides, many of the traditional means of fighting wildfires don't work against the Paradise. Dumping water from a helicopter, to take one example, is almost meaningless. As an NPR reporter noted, the rainforest canopy "is so dense that very little of the water will make it down to the fire burning in the underbrush below." Worse yet, as the Washington Post reported, the large trees and thick growth "make it impossible to effectively cut a fire line" through the foliage to contain the spread of the flames.

With the moist lichens and mosses that usually give the rainforest its magical appearance shriveled and dried out, they now help spread the fire from tree to tree. When they burst into flames and fall to the ground, yet more of the dry underbrush catches, too. In other words, that forest, which normally would have suppressed a fire, has now been transformed into a tinderbox.

"Few people in our profession have ever seen this kind of fire in this kind of ecosystem," Bill Hahnenberg, the Paradise Fire incident commander, told his crew. "The information you gather could be really valuable." He didn't have to add the obvious: its value lies in offering hints as to how to fight such fires in a future that, as the region becomes drier and hotter, will be ever more amenable to them.

So far, the fire is smoldering, but as the summer heats up, the Seattle Times reports, "there is still the potential for a crown fire that can spread in dramatic fashion as treetops are engulfed in flames." According to several park employees I spoke with, the Paradise Fire is likely to burn until the autumn rains return to the western valleys. As of July 23rd, it had eaten 1,781 acres, which sounds modest compared to other fires burning in the West, but you have to remind yourself that it's not modest at all, not in a temperate rainforest. It also poses a challenge to the very American idea of land conservation.

Throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, American environmentalists passionately fought to protect large swaths of public lands and waters. The national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, and wildernesses they helped to create laid the basis for a new American identity. Nationalism aside, such publicly protected lands and waters also offered refuge for an incredible diversity of species, some of which would have otherwise found it difficult to survive at the edges of an expanding industrialized, consumerist society. Today, that diversity of life within these public lands and waters is increasingly endangered by climate change.

What, then, should environmental conservation look like in a twenty-first century in which the Paradise Fire could become something like the norm?

Tankers and Rigs

"This is not an anthropogenic fire," the ranger I spoke with at the Hoh visitor center insisted. In the most literal sense, that's true. In late May, lightning struck a tree in the Queets Valley and started the fire, which then smoldered and slowly spread across the north bank of the river. It was finally detected in mid-June and firefighters were called in. That such a lightning strike disqualifies the Paradise Fire from being "anthropogenic" - human-caused - would once have been a given, but in a world being heated by the burning of fossil fuels, such definitions have to be reconsidered.

The very rarity of such fires speaks to the anthropogenic nature of the origins of this one.  After all, a temperate rainforest as a vast collection of biomass and so a carbon sink is only possible thanks to the rarity of fire in such a habitat. According to the World Wildlife Fund, "With a unique combination of moderate temperatures and very high rainfall, the climate makes fires extremely rare" in such forests.

The natural fire cycle in these forests is about 500 to 800 years. In other words, once every half-millennium or more this forest may experience a moderate-sized fire. But that's now changing. Mark Huff, who has been studying wildfires in the park since the late 1970s, told Seattle's public radio station KUOW that in the past half-century there have already been "three modest-sized fires" here, including the Paradise, though the other two were less destructive.According to a National Park Service map ("Olympic National Park: Fire History 1896-2006") in the western rainforest, during that century-plus, two lightning-caused fires burned more than 100 acres and another more than 500 acres.

If, however, fires in the rainforest become the new normal, comments Olympic National Park wildlife biologist Patti Happe, "then we may not have these forests."

A team of international climate change and rainforest experts published a study earlier this year warning that, "without drastic and immediate cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and new forest protections, the world's most expansive stretch of temperate rainforests from Alaska to the coast redwoods will experience irreparable losses." In fact, says the study's lead author, Dominick DellaSala, "In the Pacific Northwest... the climate may no longer support rainforest communities."

Speaking of the anthropogenic, on our way back, Finis and I stopped in Port Angeles, the largest city on the peninsula. There we noted a Chevron oil tanker, the massive 904-foot Pegasus Voyager, moored in its harbor on the Salish Sea. It had arrived empty for "topside repair." Today, only a modest number of oil tankers and barges come here for repair, refueling, and other services, but that could change dramatically if Canada's tar sands extraction project really takes off and vast quantities of that particularly carbon-dirty energy product are exported to Asia.

That industry is already fighting to build two new pipelines from Alberta, the source of most of the country's tar sands, to the coast of British Columbia. "Once this invasion of tar sands oil reaches the coast," a Natural Resources Defense Council press release states, "up to 2,000 additional barges and tankers would be needed to carry the crude to Washington and California ports and international markets across the Pacific." All of those barges and tankers would be moving through the Salish Sea and along Washington's coast.

And let's not forget that, in May, Shell Oil moored in Seattle's harbor the Polar Pioneer, one of the two rigs the company plans to use this summer for exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea of Arctic Alaska (a project only recently green-lighted by the Obama administration). In fact, Shell expects to use that harbor as the staging area for its Arctic drilling fleet. The arrival of Polar Pioneer inspired a "kayaktivist" campaign, which received national and international media coverage. It focused on drawing attention to the dangers of drilling in the melting Arctic Ocean, including the significant contribution such new energy extraction projects could make to climate change.

In other words, two of the most potentially climate-destroying fossil-fuel-extraction projects on Earth more or less bookend the burning Olympic Peninsula.

The harbors of Washington, a state that prides itself on its environmental stewardship, have already become a support base for one, and the other will likely join the crowd in the years to come. Washington's residents will gradually become more accustomed to oil rigs and tankers and trains, while its rainforests burn in yet more paradisical fires.

In the meantime, the Olympic Peninsula is still wreathed in smoke, the West is still drought central, and anthropogenic is a word all of us had better learn soon.

Opinion Thu, 30 Jul 2015 10:28:36 -0400
Georgia Is Moving Children With Disabilities Into Schools Used During Jim Crow

(Photo: Empty Classroom via shutterstock; Edited LW / TO)(Photo: Empty Classroom via Shutterstock; Edited LW / TO)

Georgia has been illegally and unnecessarily segregating thousands of students with behavioral issues and disabilities, isolating them in run-down facilities and providing them with subpar education, according to an investigation by the US Department of Justice.

Some of the students in the program were schooled in the same inferior buildings that served black children in the days of Jim Crow. The investigation found that many of the buildings lack gyms, cafeterias, libraries, labs, playgrounds and other amenities.

"It's a warehouse for kids the school system doesn't want or know how to deal with," a parent told the Justice Department of the program. The Justice Department detailed its findings in a letter earlier this month to Georgia's governor and attorney general.

Federal law mandates that schools educate students with disabilities in the "least restrictive environment" in which they can learn and thrive. More broadly, public entities must serve people with disabilities in the "most integrated setting."

But what the Justice Department found in Georgia is something that persists across the country: Schools continue to inappropriately segregate students with a range of behavioral needs and disabilities.

Children are often placed in more restrictive settings because traditional public schools show little flexibility in working with students who may need more support.

In Georgia, schools were quick to move children out of mainstream classrooms, the Justice Department noted. In some cases, students were recommended for placement after a single incident or a string of minor incidents, such as using inappropriate language with a teacher. Parents reported feeling pressured into agreeing to the placements.

In fact, many students who were placed in what's called the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support, or GNETS, didn't actually need to be there, the Justice Department said. Most could have stayed in their neighborhood schools if they'd been given more behavioral or mental-health support. "Nearly all students in the GNETS Program could receive services in more integrated settings, but do not have the opportunity to do so," the letter said.

What's more, because the state has set up a system that tilts toward providing services in segregated settings, the letter said, Georgia "undermines the availability of these services in more integrated settings."

A spokeswoman for Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal referred questions to the Georgia Department of Education, whose spokesman referred questions to the Attorney General's Office. Daryl Robinson, counsel to the Georgia Attorney General, told ProPublica, "We don't have any comment at this time."

This isn't the first time that the GNETS has drawn scrutiny. In 2010, a state audit found that the programs "are not held accountable for student performance" and questioned their cost effectiveness. Earlier, in 2004, a 13-year-old boy in the program hanged himself while held for hours isolated in a room.

Advocates have long been critical of the quality of services offered by the network.

"We have seen many, many clients whose behavior gets significantly worse in GNETS," said Leslie Lipson, an attorney with the Georgia Advocacy Office. "We've seen kids who are significantly behind their peers for no other reason than lack of instruction. We've seen students who are great football players or involved in student government or band who are sent to GNETS and have no opportunities to be part of their community."

The Justice Department threatened the state with a lawsuit if the problems are not corrected. It called on the state to redirect services, training and resources to move students with behavioral challenges back into general-education schools.

In particular, it suggested increasing access to mental health services by locating mental health clinics "at or near schools" to provide services to students who would otherwise be at risk of being referred to more restrictive, segregated settings.

News Thu, 30 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400