Truthout Stories Tue, 06 Oct 2015 09:57:31 -0400 en-gb Environmental Activists Continue to Face Interrogations at US-Canada Border

Three members of the radical environmental organization Deep Green Resistance and two other individuals were detained for more than seven hours at the Peace Arch border crossing between Washington State and British Columbia on their way to Vancouver to attend a talk by author and activist Chris Hedges on Friday, September 25. They were questioned about the organizations they were involved in, their political affiliations, and their contacts in Canada before being turned away by Canadian border agents. Upon re-entering the United States they were then subjected to another round of questioning by US border agents. The car they were traveling in as well as their personal computers were searched.

The interrogation comes on the heels of an FBI inquiry into Deep Green Resistance last fall in which more than a dozen members of the group were contacted and questioned by FBI agents. Several months later the group's lawyer, Larry Hildes, was stopped at the same border crossing and asked specifically about one of his clients, Deanna Meyer, also a Deep Green Resistance member. During the 2014 visits, FBI and Department of Homeland Security agents showed up at members' places of work, their homes, and contacted family members to find out more about the group. Meyer, who lives in Colorado, was asked by a DHS agent if she'd be interested in "forming a liaison." The agent told her he wanted to, "head off any injuries or killing of people that could happen by people you know." Two of the members detained at the border on Friday were also contacted by the FBI last fall.

Since Hildes was last held up at the Peace Arch border crossing in June he filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security's Traveler Redress Inquiry Program. In August he received a letter from the DHS saying the agency "can neither confirm nor deny any information about you which may be within federal watchlists or reveal any law enforcement sensitive information."

It's not only Deep Green Resistance members who have had trouble getting across the border. Environmental activists who were part of a campaign in Texas opposing  the Keystone XL pipeline were the targets of an FBI investigation in 2012 and 2013 and have also been denied entry into Canada. At least one of those activists, Bradley Stroot, has been placed on a selective screening watchlist for domestic flights.

Nearly all of the activists involved are US citizens who have not had issues traveling to Canada in the past, leading them to believe that the recent FBI investigation and interest in their activities has landed them on some kind of federal watchlist. According to Peter Edelman, an immigration attorney in Vancouver, there are three broad categories under which Canadian border agents may deny entry to a foreign national: If they suspect you are entering Canada to work or study or you clearly don't have the financial resources needed for the duration of the visit; if you pose a security threat to Canada or are a member of a terrorist or criminal organization; or if you've committed certain crimes. Edelman says that US citizens tend to get targeted more easily at the Canadian border because of the various information- sharing programs between the two countries. As soon as they scan your passport, border agents have access to a whole host of state and federal databases. Still, Edelman says, "Who gets targeted and who doesn't is definitely an exercise in profiling."

On Friday, September 25 Deep Green Resistance members Max Wilbert, Dillon Thomson, Rachel Ivey and two other individuals not affiliated with the group drove from Eugene, Oregon to attend the talk by Hedges, which was a collaboration with the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter and the Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution. They got to the border around 1 p.m., told the border agents where they were going, and that they'd be returning to Oregon the next day. They were then asked to exit their vehicle and enter the border control facility, where they assumed they would be held briefly before continuing on their way.

Instead, they ended up spending four hours on the Canadian side, each questioned separately. At one point, an agent came into the building carrying Wilbert's computer and notebooks. He asked the agent what they were doing with the computer and was told they were searching for "child pornography and evidence that you're intending to work in Canada." The agent also said they were "not going to add or remove anything."

According to Edelman the searching of computers and cell phones at the border has become standard procedure despite the fact that there are questions about whether a border search allows for such invasive measures. Border agents take the view that they are permitted to do so, but the legal picture remains murky. "The searching of computers is an issue of contention," Edelman says.

After four hours of questioning, all but one of the travelers were told that they would not be allowed to enter Canada. Wilbert, who grew up in Seattle and has traveled to Canada many times without incident, including as recently as January 2015, was told that they were suspicious he was entering the country to work illegally. A professional photographer, he had volunteered to take pictures of the event, which he had openly told the agents. "It was pretty obvious they were grasping for straws," Wilbert says. "Under that level of suspicion you wouldn't let anybody into Canada."

The other three individuals were told they had been denied entry for previous political protest-related arrests. Rachel Ivey, a Deep Green Resistance member arrested in 2012 during a protest near the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, had traveled to Canada in December 2014 without any problems. The one individual allowed entry had no prior arrest record or explicit affiliation with any political groups. (Interestingly, several Deep Green Resistance members traveling separately, including one of the group's founders, Lierre Keith, were allowed to pass through the border and attend the event.)

After being denied entry to Canada, the group turned around and attempted to reenter the United States, at which point they were again pulled aside and told by US border agents to exit their car. The group was then subjected to a similar round of questioning that lasted three and a half hours. This time, US agents took three computers from the vehicle into the border control facility and kept them for the duration of the interrogation.

According to Wilbert, the questions on the American side were more obviously political. Agents wanted to know the names of the groups they were involved in, what kinds of activities they engage in, what they believe in, and who they were going to see.

"It seemed very clear on the US side that they had already come to conclusions about who we are and what we were doing," Ivey says.

Around 8:30 p.m. they were told they could leave and that it had been nothing more than a routine inspection.

Wilbert doesn't see it that way. Two days later he got a new computer and says he plans to get rid of the one seized by border agents. Despite assurances from the border officials that nothing was "added or removed" he says, "We feel like everything we do on those computers will never be private."

"It was pretty clear to us that it was an information gathering excursion," says Wilbert. "They had an opportunity to harass and intimidate and gather information from activists who they find threatening."

News Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
US Military Changes Its Account of Afghanistan Hospital Bombing

Kabul, Afghanistan - The U.S. military on Monday changed its account of a devastating bombing in northern Afghanistan, saying that Afghan forces, not U.S. advisers, initiated a request for an American airstrike that killed 22 people at a Doctors Without Borders hospital.

It was the first time the U.S. military acknowledged that its airstrike hit the hospital, but the disclosure only deepened the questions surrounding what has become one of the most controversial civilian casualty incidents in nearly 14 years of American combat in Afghanistan.

It remained unclear what role, if any, was played by U.S. special forces on the ground, whether Taliban fighters were in or near the hospital, what kind of training the Afghan forces had undergone to learn the rules of engagement, and why the United States would carry out an attack on a medical facility, which ordinarily would be clearly marked.

Doctors Without Borders says it gave NATO forces the GPS coordinates for the hospital both before and during the attack.

Gen. John F. Campbell, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, called a news conference at the Pentagon to revise earlier statements that the airstrike was carried out on behalf of American military personnel who were under fire from Taliban insurgents early Saturday in the city of Kunduz.

"We have now learned that on Oct. 3, Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. forces," Campbell said. "An airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat, and several civilians were accidentally struck."

Pressed repeatedly about the role U.S. forces played, Campbell said Afghan forces "asked for air support from a special forces team that we have on the ground," but that the U.S. team had not been under fire.

American warplanes and ground forces, including an undisclosed number of special operations troops, have been assisting in the Afghan operation to retake Kunduz after it fell to the Taliban last week. Residents said Monday that government forces had nearly regained total control of the city of 300,000 and that many people were venturing outside for the first time since fighting began.

The U.S. military has offered few details of the hostilities that prompted the Saturday airstrike. Officials have said American troops were advising the Afghans who requested the airstrike, but it remained unclear how close they were to the firefight.

Doctors Without Borders - the Nobel Peace Prize-winning medical charity that operates hospitals in poor and strife-torn countries worldwide - accused the U.S. of changing its story and "attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government." The group closed the Kunduz hospital Sunday and has called for an independent investigation into the incident.

"The reality is the U.S. dropped those bombs," said Christopher Stokes, general director of the group that is also known by its French name, Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF.

"The U.S. hit a huge hospital full of wounded patients and MSF staff. The U.S. military remains responsible for the targets it hits, even though it is part of a coalition. There can be no justification for this horrible attack."

The bombing has refocused attention on the rules of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, which in January was downsized to 9,800 troops focused on training and advising Afghan forces. The U.S. military has sharply curtailed its use of airstrikes, although officials say they can still be authorized in some cases to protect Afghan forces, which lack capable air power.

An Afghan request for an airstrike must be approved by the U.S. and is coordinated by an officer known as a joint terminal attack controller, who is trained in calling in close air support from attack aircraft.

Afghan military officials say American air power has been decisive in several battles over the last year against a resurgent Taliban, but the U.S. has tried to limit its role. Through August, the U.S. had launched 523 airstrikes in Afghanistan in 2015, one-third as many as in the same period last year.

"Just because the Afghan security forces ask, doesn't mean that they receive" an airstrike, said a U.S. military official in Afghanistan, who wasn't authorized to speak on the matter.

It remained unclear whether the coordinates in the Kunduz strike - which was carried out by an AC-130, a heavily armed aircraft that fires rounds powerful enough to rip apart tanks - were mistaken or if the precise location of the hospital was unknown. MSF says it notified officials in Washington and Kabul repeatedly of the GPS coordinates of the facility, as is standard practice in conflict zones.

Initial statements from U.S. military officials in Afghanistan said the hospital suffered "collateral damage," indicating it wasn't the target of the strikes. But MSF says it contacted military officials after the bombing began around 2:08 a.m., and airstrikes continued for more than one hour, precisely striking the hospital's main building roughly every 15 minutes, "while surrounding buildings were left mostly untouched."

U.S. and Afghan officials say that Taliban militants were using the area near the hospital to launch attacks against their forces - an assertion that could not be independently verified. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said over the weekend that the hospital area had seen "intense fighting."

Militant groups such as Hamas, in the Gaza strip, have been accused of using hospitals and other civilian structures as human shields. Afghan insurgents in recent years have increasingly attacked civilian targets, including schools and hotels in Kabul and other cities, resulting in thousands of casualties.

"The United States military takes extraordinary steps to avoid harm to civilians," Campbell said. "However, the Taliban have purposefully chosen a fight from within a heavily urbanized area, purposely placing civilians in harm's way."

The MSF hospital in Kunduz had previously come under scrutiny by Afghan forces because of the organization's policy of treating all patients regardless of political affiliation. In July, Afghan commandos raided the facility, reportedly on suspicion that an al-Qaida suspect was being treated there, causing the group to briefly close the hospital to new patients.

Immediately after the bombing Saturday, a Taliban spokesman issued a vague statement saying none of its fighters was being treated at the MSF hospital "because the prevailing military situation of Kunduz would not allow us to admit our patients."

The statement did not answer allegations that Taliban fighters were launching attacks from near the facility. But MSF has distributed accounts from hospital staff members that cast doubt on claims that there were hostilities in the area immediately prior to the bombing - including one from a nurse who said he was sleeping when the airstrike began.

"Over the past week, we'd heard bombings and explosions before, but always farther away," said the nurse, Lajos Zoltan Jecs.

MSF said the "constant discrepancies in the U.S. and Afghan accounts" underlined the need for an independent probe. Campbell said three investigations - one by the Pentagon, another involving the U.S. and Afghan governments and a third by NATO - are examining the incident.

U.S. defense officials say the investigations are centered on whether the U.S. military knew the hospital was nearby when the airstrike was launched and whether the facility was being used by the Taliban to launch attacks.

Carter, in Madrid as part of a five-day trip through Europe, said that as of Sunday neither U.S. nor Afghan forces had been able to reach the hospital because it was in an embattled area.

For the Pentagon, the incident has been a bleak rerun of previous incidents in Afghanistan when U.S. warplanes hit wedding parties and other civilian gatherings, prompting outrage from former President Hamid Karzai. According to the United Nations, more than 1,700 Afghan civilians have been killed by airstrikes since 2007, the vast majority of which were likely from U.S. forces, which dominate the air war in Afghanistan.

The Kunduz operation has served as a reminder that U.S. combat in Afghanistan is not over, despite the Obama administration's efforts to bring the war to an end.

"Afghanistan remains an area of active hostilities, and our personnel continue to operate in harm's way," Campbell said. "Therefore, they retain the inherent right of self-defense."

In Kunduz, life slowly began to return to normal Monday, with shops reopening in the morning and vehicle, bicycle and foot traffic returning to the city.

"Today the situation in Kunduz is good," Qasim Jangal Bagh, the provincial police chief, told reporters. "People are walking around and returning to their routines."

Special correspondent Latifi reported from Kabul, and Times staff writers Bengali from Mumbai, India, and Hennigan from Madrid.

News Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Solar Power Boom in India: Will It Reach the People Who Need It Most?

The sun is shining on India, and India is poised to take advantage of it, with massive investments in solar energy facilities to help meet the needs of a population that is expected to grow to make it the planet's most populous nation by 2022. But will the power go to the people who need it most?

With its large land mass and tropical location, many experts consider the country particularly suitable for solar power. In fact, a recent study by Deloitte and the Confederation of Indian Industry estimated India's solar power potential at 749 gigawatts — nearly three times the country's entire installed electrical capacity in 2012 — and reported that not even 1 percent of this potential is currently tapped.

The Indian government is making aggressive moves to accelerate the country's solar energy supply. According to Bridge to India, a Delhi-based solar energy firm, India's solar industry is expected to grow 250 percent this year, putting the country on track to become one of the top five solar countries globally. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has just approved a plan to develop 50 solar cities. The world's first airport that runs entirely on solar power was recently built in the southwestern Indian state of Cochin. And India is soon to have the world's largest solar power station. Describing solar energy as the "ultimate solution," Modi pledged to give all Indians access to electricity and called on the country's scientists to develop more efficient solar energy equipment.

"Solar power is India's opportunity of a lifetime. It has the power to address not only India's development problems, but it could also be a game changer for global climate change," says Tobias Engelmeier, director of Bridge to India. "Reaching a capacity of 100 gigawatts in 15 years is realistic," he says.

According to the Delhi-based think tank The Energy and Resources Institute, 300 million people in India have no access to electricity. Solar power could make it easier for schoolchildren to do homework after dark, help residents connect to the world through mobile phones and more. However, Engelmeier says, it will be a challenge for solar power to filter to the urban poor.

"Decisions regarding the solar power investments are very politically driven and erratic," Engelmeier says. "Even those who have access to electricity in cities regularly suffer from power cuts. Especially without centralized power systems and with the unpredictable nature of politics, it's difficult to anticipate what will happen."

That said, many initiatives intend to make India's urban poor benefit from the solar power boom. Through the project "Lighting a Billion Lives," The Energy and Resources Institute has already illuminated more than half a million households not just in India, but also in 11 other developing countries. Similarly, the Small-Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund provides financial, technical and business support to small enterprises that provide solar infrastructure. Established in 2012, the Australia- and India-based social business Pollinate Energy has sold micro solar grids in more than 1,000 communities.

"It will be the [non-profit] sector and the individuals from communities who will leverage the solar power boom to slums," says Katerina Kimmorley, founding director of Pollinate Energy.

However, even at subsidized rates offered by social businesses such as Pollinate Energy, a solar power unit costs Rs. 5500 (US$83) whereas a daily wage of a construction worker can be as low as Rs. 200 (US$3). Many urban dwellers work in volatile sectors such as construction, where jobs are cut during the rainy season, which means many households would likely find it difficult to afford such solutions.

Not only that, but electricity is not the energy upgrade India's poorest residents need most. By far the greatest use of energy in slums is for cooking food and sterilizing water — a need currently met by biomass fuels, which pollute the air and cause health problems, and which cannot easily be met by micro solar photovoltaics because of the relatively small amount of electricity they produce. Nevertheless, micro solar grids can benefit households to a certain degree, especially when it comes to satisfying smaller everyday needs such as illuminating houses and charging mobile phones.

There's little doubt that it will take many years, if not decades, for consumer demand and rising market competition to make solar power affordable enough for all. However, with the right steps, policies and the heavy involvement of the nonprofit sector, solar may indeed play an important role in helping India's 300 million current power-less people gain access to electricity.View Ensia homepage

Opinion Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Republican Legislators Coming for Universities After Planned Parenthood

Members of the United States Congress are currently using a heavily edited and misleading video as an excuse to defund Planned Parenthood. Now, Republican legislators at the state level are also jumping on the bandwagon. Rather than targeting Planned Parenthood, however, they're targeting the university labs that use fetal tissue in their research.

According to Politico, since the Planned Parenthood debacle reignited this summer, eight states have advanced bills that would either defund labs that conduct research with fetal tissue or ban the practice altogether.

It's weird to see fetal tissue legislation reemerge now. Though similar laws were passed decades ago, many were subsequently struck down after challenges in court. As we've seen a lot lately, though, Republicans aren't afraid to take stands on issues that will appeal to their base that judges might later deem unconstitutional.

For example, Wisconsin State Representative Andre Jacque has already tried twice to introduce bills that ban fetal tissue research, to no success. Now that fetal tissue is the topic du jour, however, Jacque's conservative peers are throwing their support behind his latest attempt. He expects to have enough votes to pass the bill in Wisconsin before the end of the month.

It'll be a shame if it does pass since fetal tissue is on the forefront of all sorts of medical research. As NPR reports, labs are currently using fetal tissue to find cures and treatments for AIDS, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, cancer, autism, schizophrenia, blindness and various birth defects. Moreover, because fetal tissue is "versatile" and has a longer shelf life, it has a greater use in labs than adult tissue does.

Singling out research is a roundabout way to attack abortion. By the legislators' own admission, these bills would do nothing to decrease the number of abortions performed. It's hard to imagine many women opting to carry a fetus to term after discovering the tissue wouldn't be used for research. Still, it's a way for lawmakers to take a stand on something related to abortion that will appeal to the anti-choice crowd.

Many scientists have intentionally stayed out of the attack on Planned Parenthood, afraid that speaking up would put funding for their own research at risk. Now state legislators are dragging them into the battle anyway. If these laws are passed, it is likely that a lot of important university research will be halted.

"This is a debate about abortion, not fetal tissue research," said Alta Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin. "That's just an excuse. If you were to show pictures of cadavers – of what we do when we take out their bones, take out their organs, it would be equally hard. These images are just hard."

At this point, the war on science and the war on women are interlocked. If conservative politicians cannot outlaw abortion directly, they're content to shut down anything they can that's tangentially related to the practice. Unfortunately, we'll all be worse off if laboratories conducting this research are no longer permitted to conduct their experiments.

News Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
"Democracy No Longer Matters in the EU": Dimitri Lascaris Analyzes the Greek Election Results

Political analyst and journalist Dimitri Lascaris has closely monitored developments in Greece during the economic crisis. In this interview, he discusses the Greek election results, voter behavior and why the breakaway Popular Unity Party failed to enter parliament.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras giving his last public speech before the Greek elections, Athens, Greece, Sept. 18.Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras giving his last public speech before the Greek elections, Athens, Greece, September 18. (Photo: Bill Anastasiou /

On September 20, amid record-high abstention, early Greek parliamentary elections were held, bringing Syriza and Alexis Tsipras back to power in a new coalition with the right-wing Independent Greeks Party (ANEL). Despite the collapse of the previous Syriza-led coalition government over the summer following its betrayal of the overwhelming referendum result, which rejected further troika-imposed austerity, Syriza managed to emerge victorious with barely a decline in its electoral share, albeit with a much smaller pool of voters casting ballots in these snap elections.

What does this electoral result mean for Greece though, and does this re-elected government have staying power? Political analyst and journalist Dimitri Lascaris of The Real News Network, who has closely monitored the political developments in Greece during the crisis, shares his insights into the election results, voter behavior, the failure of the breakaway Popular Unity Party to enter parliament, and the likelihood of this new government remaining in place for more than a few months. Additionally, he discusses his own candidacy in the upcoming Canadian parliamentary elections as a member of the Green Party and draws some parallels between the political situations in Greece and Canada.

Michael Nevradakis: After a tumultuous political summer in Greece, during which we saw the Syriza-led government turn its back on the referendum result of July 5, where Greek voters resoundingly rejected austerity, we saw those same Greek voters bring Syriza back to power, with barely a decline in its share of the vote compared to January's elections. Are you surprised by this result?

Dimitri Lascaris: I am surprised that they didn't suffer more losses in terms of the popular vote. However, I am not surprised, given the sad state of the Greek political landscape, that they emerged as the party with the most votes. The options, frankly, were not particularly attractive, and the one that I think was most disappointing from my perspective - I would have hoped that it would have performed better - was Popular Unity. Not because Popular Unity is necessarily ready to take power - it was a party that was remarkably formed just shortly after the election was called - and I've never, in my experience, seen a party perform well after it comes into existence following the calling of an election. Parties need to have organizational infrastructure in place; they need to have funding in place; they need time in order to contend, and Popular Unity had none of that. So it's not surprising they didn't have a dominant share, but I would have thought at least they could have exceeded the 3 percent threshold.

"It's not at all surprising that you would see a record-low turnout after the democratic choice of the Greek people was completely squashed."

This may have something to do with their choice of leader. I don't know if an alternative was available to them or not, but I think if they had put someone like Zoe Konstantopoulou in the leadership position, they would have almost certainly performed better. I think she has proven herself to be a person, certainly by the standards of the Greek Parliament, of incredible integrity and conviction. She seems to command a great deal of respect amongst the Greek electorate, and she would have constituted a break with the male-dominated past of Greek politics, and so perhaps that would have helped them get over the threshold and garner a larger share of the vote. But at the end of the day, there was no party that I think was really well positioned, that had the infrastructure in place to challenge Syriza in the sorry landscape of Greek politics.

What other factors do you believe may account for the electoral failure of Popular Unity?

As I understand it, there was a failure, to some degree at least, of the anti-austerity forces of the left to unite. My understanding is that there was some movement from the anti-capitalist front Antarsya to Popular Unity, but there wasn't a complete union of those political forces, and of course you have KKE (Communist Party of Greece) remaining aloof of the attempts to unify the anti-austerity left. I think if there had been a true united political front put up, then there undoubtedly would have been a much better performance by the true anti-austerity forces in Greece, and I certainly don't count Syriza, as it's currently constituted, as part of that movement. So I think that had something to do with it.

One of the big stories coming out of this election is the very high abstention level, the highest in Greece in almost 70 years. What do you make of this? Do you believe that those eligible voters who did not participate in the elections were attempting to send their own message to the political system?

Certainly some of them were probably of that mind. Others may have just given up, frankly. If anything has been learned over the last eight or nine months since the election of Syriza, it's that democracy doesn't matter anymore in the European Union, particularly if you are a voter in one of the so-called "peripheral countries" like Greece, which has very little influence within the EU.

It's not at all surprising that you would see a record-low turnout after the democratic choice of the Greek people was completely squashed. There was a resounding and historic vote in excess of 60 percent in the face of intense pressure to reject the so-called "bailout" that was on the table in early July, and what did the Greek people end up with? They ended up with something worse than what they rejected, and I think it's actually worse by a wide margin. In those circumstances, why would anyone have any confidence in the democratic process in Greece?

At the end of the day, what we get is that Alexis Tsipras attained the vote of 20 percent of eligible voters. So if he thinks he has some kind of resounding mandate to now proceed with this inhumane austerity program, I think frankly the man lives on another planet.

What type of government do you believe will be formed in Greece in the aftermath of the election, and how long do you believe this new coalition will last?

Well, it appears that the prior coalition partner, the Independent Greeks (ANEL), will again be the coalition partner of Syriza in the new government. You know, if we weren't dealing with an agreement - a so-called "bailout" agreement that is going to have devastating effects on an already ravished Greek economy - I would say that this coalition would have some prospect of lasting for several years. But the reality is quite different. The slashing; the further reduction in pension benefits; the primary surplus targets which are simply and irrationally aggressive; the additional taxes, consumption taxes and income taxes that are being imposed upon the population; the privatization program, which is going to result in a fire sale of key Greek assets; all of these things are going to exacerbate the economic difficulties in Greece. It's already dealing with Depression-era levels of unemployment, and in my view, there is no realistic prospect whatsoever of Greece obtaining the debt relief that it requires in order for its debt to become sustainable.

"The eurozone has austerity baked into its DNA."

The German government has been quite clear that a write-down is out of the question, and officials even said that there may be some minor tweaking of the interest rates, which is possible, but they really don't have any appetite for that. All they're really talking about doing is extending the maturities on Greek debt, and that is going to be a very marginal benefit to the Greek people because, as I understand it, the next debt principal payment dates are in 2022. So if you extend out the maturities modestly, which is what the German government is talking about doing, it's going to be of no significant benefit to the government fiscally for the next six years, and when a country is in a depression, that's an eternity, six years. And certainly this government has no prospect of lasting six years.

So what we're going to find, very soon, is the Greek debt drama will again resurface; it will again become apparent, no matter what modest debt relief is afforded to Greece, that that debt is unsustainable, and it's wildly unsustainable. That this program that's being imposed on the Greek people has no prospect of lifting Greece out of its depression and will, in fact, exacerbate it, and when all of that becomes readily apparent, as it soon will, we are going to find ourselves again in a world of immense political instability in Greece and that government will fall. And at that point, all bets are off as to what could happen.

Many of us have feared that the extreme right will eventually become a much more potent political force. It's already a force that has a frightening level of support amongst the population, at around 7 percent. It's now the third party in parliament. That's really a raging indictment against the European Union, that a vehemently neo-Nazi party could command that level of support in a country in the EU. So, what happens when that government falls, as it will in I think a reasonably short order, is really uncertain and could cause us all to rue the day that the European Union was created.

How can the Greek people and the anti-memorandum forces in Greece mobilize and regroup and gain a stronger foothold in the Greek political landscape, especially if the current government doesn't last very long?

I think the forces of the left have to demonstrate themselves capable of significantly improving the day-to-day lives of the people, and through cooperative networks, [and] grassroots efforts, it's possible to inspire a greater level of confidence amongst the Greek electorate. But the sad reality is, in the current environment, it's very, very difficult for any political force in Greece to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the Greek people. There has to be, ultimately, either a withdrawal from the eurozone, which itself invites quite significant risks and many would say potentially catastrophic risks for the Greek economy, or there has to be a wholesale change in the architecture of the eurozone.

Right now, the eurozone has austerity baked into its DNA, and it's dominated by political forces that are absolutely determined, in the face of a mountain of economic evidence to the contrary, to pursue austerity throughout the EU and to continue to weaken the rights of workers, [and] to continue to favor large business interests over the population. As long as that is the political landscape in the eurozone, and as long as Greece remains within the eurozone, any political force in Greece, however well intentioned it is, is going to be extremely limited in what it can do.

You are a candidate in the upcoming Canadian parliamentary elections with the Green Party. Share with us a few words about your campaign.

To give you some context, the Green Party in Canada currently commands a little less than 5 percent of the popular vote. The party in power, the Conservative Party of Canada, is without a doubt, the most neoliberal, right-wing government that this country has ever seen, and certainly that it has seen in the post-World War II period. The government that's currently in power seems to have one overarching objective, and that is to convert Canada into a petrostate superpower, and for that purpose has bended or altered the laws to favor the tar sands industry, which is concentrated in the province of Alberta. That party has, through the pursuit of these policies, earned a very high level of opposition and hostility from the vast majority of the electorate. It's currently commanding about 30 percent of popular support.

The problem is that the other political forces are divided. It's not dissimilar to what you see in Greece, although the level of division is not quite as acute as it is in Greece. There are three significant parties opposing the Conservative government. The first is the Liberal Party; the second is the New Democratic Party (NDP), which historically has been the social democratic force in Canadian politics; and then there's the Green Party. I chose the Green Party for one simple reason, and that is - those two parties, the Liberals and the NDP - have become the parties of the status quo. This country faces quite severe problems, and at the very top of the list is climate change. We all face that problem, and there is absolutely no appetite in the leadership of the NDP or the Liberals to confront that problem; they in fact are openly advocating for an expansion of the tar sands. They favor, to varying degrees, the construction of pipeline infrastructure that would facilitate the expansion of the tar sands.

There's a very telling and sad development in Canadian politics: The NDP threw one of its star candidates, Linda McQuaig, based in Canada's largest city, Toronto, under the bus a month ago because she had the courage to state a simple scientific fact, which is that in order for us to avoid catastrophic climate change, we're going to have to leave the majority of the oil underground. I mean, this is just science; this is not a political judgment. When she said this, the leadership rushed to the microphones because she came under fierce attack from the right, and said that's not part of the NDP platform. So here you have Canada's so-called social democratic party saying that science is not part of its platform, and basic humanity is not part of its platform, because the consequence of it rejecting the science will be a disaster for humanity.

Quite apart from that, the NDP, under a gentleman by the name of Tom Mulcair, has begun to look increasingly like the current government. The NDP favors, for example, democracy-destroying trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and there's a similar agreement under negotiation with Europe in fact, the Canada-European trade agreement. These agreements contain investor-state dispute resolution provisions that will effectively give multinational corporations the ability to obtain huge judgments, potentially multibillion-dollar judgments against Canada, when it adopts legislation that's economically and environmentally beneficial for the citizens.

And the people who are going to be deciding whether these judgments ought to be rendered against the Canadian government are going to be corporate lawyers, the very people who are enriched by the activities of the multinationals, who will be suing the government of Canada in the future. So these provisions - these investor-state dispute resolution mechanisms - are horrible for our democracy, are fundamentally antithetical to the principles of social democracy, and when we have the leader of the so-called social democratic party, Tom Mulcair, saying publicly a few weeks ago that his party now enthusiastically supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership and, in fact, it supported a recent agreement between South Korea and Canada, which contained essentially the same type of provisions.

So, what we have here is similar to what we are seeing in Greece, a wasteland in the political scene, and there's only one party that is truly offering transformative change, and that's the Green Party, and that's why I've decided to run for them. Of course, we don't have the advantages of the money, the financial support that the other parties receive, particularly the conservatives, and we don't have the benefit of media sympathy. Like Europe and like the United States, Canada has a high level of corporate concentration in the media. The people who run the media here frankly have an agenda, in my view, that is inconsistent with the objectives of the Green Party, and so we're constantly having to battle against those forces and our leader, who has been given one opportunity in this election to debate the other leaders, and who I think was universally or almost universally viewed as having been the winner of that debate, has been shut out of subsequent debates by various shenanigans, by the media and the main political parties. Her name is Elizabeth May, [and] she's widely admired across the political spectrum in Canada, but she can't get in front of the microphone nearly often enough in order to convey to the electorate what the party has to offer and why we are the party the people of Canada should support in order to save the future of our children.

News Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Indigenous Communities Seek Autonomous Development Projects in Guatemala

Mega hydroelectric projects threaten to displace Indigenous communities in Guatemala, and are often accompanied by violent state repression. However, Indigenous peoples are seeking alternative forms of development that allow them to stay on their land and use their resources as they see fit.

4th Meeting of Latin America Network Against Dams and For Rivers held in Colonia el Naranjo, Guatemala in October 2005. 4th Meeting of Latin America Network Against Dams and For Rivers held in Colonia el Naranjo, Guatemala in October 2005. (Photo: Glen Switkes / International Rivers)

As Guatemala faces its greatest political crisis since the 1980s, behind the scenes, plans for the United States' Alliance for Prosperity continue to move along. The plan, which was modeled after Plan Colombia, would provide the governments of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador - the "northern triangle" of Central America - with an additional $1 billion aid package, on top of existing aid plans, to spur further investment in the region. The expansion of hydroelectric construction projects and the further integration of electric grids are central to the plan, yet these projects threaten indigenous communities' land rights.

Hydroelectric dams have been presented as renewable, "green" sources of energy, with little to no impact on the environment. But environmental impact reports consistently overlook the deep social and cultural effects of the projects, especially for indigenous Mayan communities.

According to a 2012 report by the Guatemalan Wholesale Market Administration, Guatemala produces 2.3 gigawatts of energy every year, but consumes only 1.8 gigawatts. The remainder is exported through SIEPAC, a regional energy transportation network that sends power to other Central American countries, Mexico and - reportedly - the United States. Yet despite this energy surplus, many regions across Guatemala still lack access to electricity or any other social services.

Guatemala's hydroelectric industry has expanded rapidly in the last six years, and it is still growing, with more than 300 hydroelectric projects in progress. In the past, expansion of infrastructure in Guatemala was based on a nationalist model of development. But in the era of neoliberalism, multinational companies have taken the lead on the expansion of projects across the region. Multinational companies from Spain, Honduras and Israel privately fund today's hydroelectric projects.

The widespread construction of hydroelectric dams has renewed conflicts between transnational corporations - allied with the Guatemalan government - and indigenous Mayan communities, echoing the violence of the past.

"They may no longer kill us with bullets, but they are still killing us and taking our natural resources."

Many of these communities, in regions such as Huehuetenango, El Quiche and Alta Verapaz, were targeted in the Guatemalan military's genocidal campaign in the 1980s. Then, it was common for the military to be deployed against indigenous communities who stood in the way of infrastructure development projects. For example, from 1981 to 1983, the military murdered over 500 indigenous Q'eqchis to make way for the World Bank-sponsored Chixoy dam project.

"The war never ended," a member of the community of 31 de Mayo, who declined to be named, told Truthout. "The peace accord was their thing, something to give the appearance of peace. They may no longer kill us with bullets, but they are still killing us and taking our natural resources."

When the massacres were revealed, the World Bank condemned the murders and stated that similar violence would never be permitted alongside their projects. But today indigenous communities resisting the construction of projects that are certified and sponsored by the World Bank, the United Nations and the United States once again face violence for their resistance.

The 1996 peace accords opened up new space for the Maya, Xinca and Garifuna peoples of Guatemala to practice their traditional forms of social organization and begin constructing their own forms of autonomy. For the first time, Guatemala was recognized as a plural-national state, with several distinct cultures, languages and social structures. In 1997, Guatemala became a signatory of the International Labor Organization's Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, and elements recognizing the rights of indigenous people were included within the Guatemalan Constitution.

But the expansion of the hydroelectric projects, and the accompanying violence, has continued, reflecting the division that remains in Guatemala nearly 20 years after the signing of the peace accords. As a woman associated with the indigenous rights organization Waqib Kej stated: "There are two sides to the Guatemalan reality. There is the side of business and the government, and there is the side of the indigenous communities, those affected by the megaprojects."

Evictions and Dispossession for Private Accumulation

The expansion of Guatemala's hydroelectric industry has had disastrous effects on the country's indigenous people. The 24-megawatt Santa Rita dam under construction on the Icobay River exemplifies the problem.

The Guatemalan-based company Hydro Electrical Santa Rita S.A., owned by the elite López-Roesch family, first proposed the Santa Rita hydro project in 2009. The powerful and influential cement company Cementos Progreso, owned by the Guatemalan Novella family, is reported to also have interests in the project.

However, the project's owners are now facing accusations of substantial human rights violations, including the deaths of community members resisting construction of the dam.

Despite these allegations, the Santa Rita dam has received the blessings of international bodies. In January 2014, the United Nations and the Colombian Institute for Technical Standards and Certification granted the Santa Rita dam green energy certification, based on the requirements of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. According to the certification, the dam met all the clean development requirements established during the Kyoto talks in 1997.

But as is common in Guatemala, the impacted indigenous communities were not given a voice in planning the project. This exclusion sparked the initial conflict over the project and led to the violent eviction of indigenous communities that lived there for generations.

The communities along the River Dolores, one of the headwaters of the Icobay River, have resisted the project since it was first announced. They are concerned that the project will lead to the destruction of their land and forests. But this resistance has led to violence against the community.

August 14, 2015, marked the one-year anniversary of the violent eviction of the Q'eqchi Mayan residents of the Monte Olivo and Samococh communities to make way for the Santa Rita dam. The communities commemorated the eviction with music and theatre performances, but the painful memories of the year before underlay the festive atmosphere.

"It has been one year since we had to flee to the mountains, leaving our houses open to the riot police," recalled David Chen, a resident of Monte Olivo. "But today we have returned to our homes. We are going to continue to exercise our right to demonstrate and to defend our land and territory."

”Whenever they implement one of these megaprojects, they do not consult the populations that are affected."

In Monte Olivo, the state used its full force against the community. On August 14, 2014, 600 police units were deployed to evict a community of a few hundred families along the River Dolores. Residents fled to the hills above their community, just as they had done during the bloody internal armed conflict. But for many, the parallels to the internal armed conflict went beyond merely hiding in the hills; police and military illegally burned fields, homes and belongings, just as they had done during the war.

"The police are not legally supposed to burn the houses, the crops etc.," said Juan Roberto Buzoc Che, a Q'eqchi Maya who works with the Mayan Association for Community Service and Development (ASOMADIC). "But here they did."

"I was pregnant when we had to flee to the mountain when the police came to invade our community," one resident, who requested anonymity, told Truthout. "When we returned two days later from the mountain, our house was completely destroyed, and the police threw all our things all over the place, and robbed many items. My house was violated; this is the repression that we suffered at the hands of the government."

In the following days, two other communities, 9 de Febrero and Samococh, both faced similar violent evictions to make way for the dam. These communities were driven out by 1,600 police units, and 22 community leaders were detained.

But the tragedy of the eviction didn't stop there.

During the eviction of Samococh, police shot and killed three men, Sebastian Rax, Oscar Chen Quej and Luciano Can Jucub. Both Rax and Can Jucub were fathers and leaders in the community, and Chen Quej was a young member of the community. The killings have been declared extrajudicial executions, and 19 officers who participated in the eviction were eventually arrested.

Activists and community members have also claimed that the police tactics changed between the beginning of the evictions and the second day. They charge that there was an infiltration by the military during the eviction.

"There was an infiltration by military in police uniforms during the second day of the eviction," Buzoc Che told Truthout. "This infiltration wasn't just by any soldier; it was the soldiers that were trained in terror."

According to Buzoc Che, this is just another example of how the constitution and the peace accords are violated by the unification of the police and military during operations. But it is difficult to confirm this charge of infiltration.

The three men killed in Samococh are only the latest victims of this conflict over the Santa Rita dam. The community has accused the company of the murder of four youths by people on the company's payroll, and the 2013 murder of two boys, David Eduardo Pacay Maas and Hageo Isaac Guitz, 11 and 13, respectively, who were playing in a field near the construction site near Monte Olivo on the day they were shot and killed by an associate of the project. There was never an investigation into the murders.

The communities had demanded a public consultation in accordance with Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, but the departmental and state authorities denied the request.

The communities have stated that they are not necessarily against development projects. Rather, they oppose the form that these projects take, including eviction from their ancestral land and other violations of their rights.

"It isn't that [indigenous communities] are against the development," Buzoc Che told Truthout. "The problem is that they are not in agreement with the form and the methodology of work. There are constitutional and international rights of indigenous communities that companies and the government must comply with. However, whenever they implement one of these megaprojects, they do not consult the populations that are affected. We feel affected by these projects. It is because of this that we resist. But the state uses the entire force of the state and the police against these communities."

But there are alternatives to these projects of death and destruction.

Autonomy as an Alternative

In the remote central region of La Zona Reyna, between the Ixil Triangle and the Ixcan, small communities produce export crops such as cardamom, cacao and coffee, and cultivate subsistence crops on small fields called milpas. There is little state presence, and the only development projects are the construction of private mega-dams like the Santa Rita dam. However, a small-scale, community-led hydroelectric project has revolutionized life there, and offers an alternative to the destructive megaprojects.

Following the end of the war, former Communities of Populations in Resistance (CPR) arrived on the former fincas (farming estates) to build their new lives following decades of war. In 1998, the hamlets of San Antonio Nueva Esperanza, 31 de Mayo, San Marcos La Libertad, El Lidio and Te Sólo Nuevo de Marzo were founded by these former rebel communities.

"This idea came from the time in the mountains," Regina, a member of the Community Association of the Sierras, told Truthout. "The idea of community energy in the schools for the children and the hospitals began there during the resistance."

Soon after, the communities began to develop a community-based hydroelectric project, but it stalled due to a lack of funds. In 2008, the community organized the installation of a single turbine in the river Lidios, with assistance from the Norwegian Embassy. The project first began operating on May 5, 2012. It produces 1 megawatt of energy, enough to power nearly 400 homes.

"The big businesses only think about the profits, and never about the impacts that they bring."

Energy prices skyrocketed after privatization in 1997, but the community-based hydro project allows the communities in La Zona Reyna to avoid the high prices. Whereas it is common for households to pay over 125 quetzales a month for power (about $16), the residents in La Zona Reyna pay 20 quetzales a month. And the money stays in the community instead of profiting a foreign company.

"For many years we have been without energy," Regina said. "In La Zona Reyna, the energy that is produced is sent to other countries, such as Costa Rica and Mexico, but not for Guatemala. [The communities] think, 'How is it that the energy leaves from here, and we stay without energy?' Here we now have energy."

"31 de Mayo is an example," Regina added. "For the people, these projects show that they don't only need the business for energy; communities too can administer their own resources. If they don't administer their own resources, it is going to cause damage to the people."

Initially, not every community in the region benefited from the project. So at the end of 2014, the communities decided to expand their energy production capacity. In December 2014, the communities started installing a second turbine. It began operating in January 2015. A third turbine in the community of La Taña began operating at the end of September 2015.

Today, the majority of houses in four of the six communities receive energy from the river. There are plans to provide the remaining community of La Gloria, a nearby community that was established years before the CPR communities arrived, with energy from another turbine in the near future.

The project has guaranteed that they communities are able to benefit from the natural resources that exist so close to their homes. It has also meant an improved standard of living, with one resident commenting, "You need to go to El Lidio; they have actual streetlights."

These autonomous projects stand in stark contrast to the violence that accompanies the construction of megaprojects, especially the expansion of hydroelectric projects across the country.

"The big businesses only think about the profits, and never about the impacts that they bring," Regina told Truthout. "The are giving us so many problems."

She added, "Why do they have to evict us and destroy our communities when the solution is so easy?"

News Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Bernanke: Jail the Banksters

Ben Bernanke (Photo: Medill DC)Ben Bernanke (Photo: Medill DC)

President Obama should have thrown the banksters in jail.

That's more or less what former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said in an interview this weekend with USA Today.

Bernanke doesn't get off totally scot-free here.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

If he really felt that way back in 2009, he could have said so publicly.

Yes, the Fed "isn't a law enforcement agency," but its word still carries a lot of weight in Washington and around the world.

If Bernanke, as the Fed chair, had said that it was a good idea to prosecute bank executives, that would have put a ton of pressure on the Justice Department to do so.

But anyways, all questions of personal responsibility aside, Bernanke is right.

We SHOULD have criminally punished more banksters after the financial crisis, and the fact that we didn't - and still haven't - will go down in history as one of this administration's biggest screw-ups.

That's because the only thing that actually keeps big financial institutions in check is prosecutions.

Just ask Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

In the wake of the savings and loans debacle of the 1980s, the Reagan and Bush administrations prosecuted more than 1,000 different individuals for their role in the crisis, and of those prosecutions, 839 resulted in convictions.

The Reagan and Bush administrations also stripped the savings and loans associations of their assets, nationalized them and then resold them to the public using a special agency called the Resolution Trust Corporation.

Not coincidentally, savings and loans associations have been remarkably stable ever since.

President Obama should have done what Reagan did.

He should have criminally prosecuted the Wall Street banksters.

But he didn't, and if there's one person most responsible for that, it's former Attorney General Eric Holder, the granddaddy of "too big to jail."

Back when he was a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, Holder wrote an infamous memo in which he laid out a plan for how to deal with large financial crimes.

Nicknamed the "Holder Doctrine," his plan was simple: Instead of prosecuting big banks and thus "destabilizing" the financial system, the government should just hit them with financial penalties - just fine them.

Ten years later, Holder got a chance to put his doctrine into practice when he became Attorney General, and he followed it to a tee.

During his tenure as the nation's top law enforcement officer, no major Wall Street player in the great mortgage bubble of the 2000's went to jail for their crimes.

Holder's Justice Department did slap a few big banks like JP Morgan with multi-million dollar settlement fines, but those fines are chump change compared to the billions those banks take in every year in profits, including the profits from illegal activity.

These fines have just become a routine cost of doing business for the banksters.

They're also tax-deductible, which makes the idea that they could ever serve as a deterrent to future bad behavior just flat-out ridiculous.

Thanks to the Holder Doctrine, the big banks are bigger than ever and comfortable in the knowledge that they're still too big to jail, six years after they got caught robbing the US blind.

That needs to change, and it needs to change now.

Eric Holder is now out as Attorney General, and his successor, Lorretta Lynch has promised to hold the banks to a tougher standard.

Let's hope that standard means prosecuting high-up executives and CEO's, because if it doesn't, the odds of another crash are rapidly approaching 100 percent.

Opinion Mon, 05 Oct 2015 16:41:43 -0400
Monsanto and Syngenta Tighten Stranglehold on Global Food Supply

Monsanto and Syngenta Tighten Stranglehold on Global Food Supply(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

There is a corporate monster in the making: a conglomeration of two Big Agriculture entities, Monsanto and Syngenta. If allowed to consolidate, the first- and third-largest biotech companies will gain near complete control of the global food supply.

Monsanto and Syngenta Tighten Stranglehold on Global Food Supply(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

There is a corporate monster in the making. If allowed to emerge, it will gain near complete control of one of the most vital elements to human survival: our global food supply. This monster - a conglomeration of two corporate entities, Monsanto and Syngenta - must be stopped for the sake of the planet and future generations.

The companies that would make up this monster conglomeration both want complete control of our food. They envision a world completely inundated with their "patented" genetically modified seeds and saturated in their environmentally destructive chemicals. They seek to put all of their critics and those deemed "in the way" in prison or leave them financially ruined. They threaten to subvert the democratic process with their "bought" legislators, who are strategically placed inside virtually every facet of the governmental apparatus. And they do all of this while wrapped in the rhetoric of superheroes, sustainability and stewardship.

Fortunately, the behemoth merger is still in its gestational period: Its constituent entities, Monsanto and Syngenta, have yet to fully "consummate" the deal. But when the conglomeration does finally emerge, it will do so with a brand new identity.

And why wouldn't Monsanto and Syngenta want to shed those tired, old skins? Both of their "brands" are mired in criminality, environmental devastation and the exposures of their mafia-style tactics (see Syngenta's transgressions: here, here and here).

Now, before we can even begin to discuss what needs to be done to remedy this predicament that will soon be thrust upon us, we must first take a look at how we've been brought to this seeming impasse.

To do so, it's helpful to look closer at the history of Monsanto, not because Syngenta is innocent of afflicting catastrophe upon the world, but because Monsanto is the greater party in this transaction, and it is Monsanto's crimes and modus operandi that other biotech companies hope to emulate.

Monsanto Plays Dirty

On April 17, 2015, Monsanto's CEO Hugh Grant met with Syngenta's chairman of the board Michel Demaré and CEO Michael Mack to discuss Monsanto's bid to merge with Syngenta - a transaction that would create an unprecedented agro-giant and should have the antitrust alarm bells screaming; this deal would constitute the combination of the first- and third-largest biotech companies in the world.

Syngenta's response to Monsanto, in a letter dated April 30, laid out the company's concerns regarding the proposed deal, which - not surprisingly - never ventured outside of the monetary realm. Demaré and Mack went on to state that the deal was "grossly inadequate" and that the regulatory process would lead to significant "value destruction" of their integrated crop strategy. They also fretted about the "reputational risk" that Monsanto poses to Syngenta's bottom line.

Syngenta's "concerns" appear to have only been a ploy to garner more for what they have to offer - as evidenced in the results of a survey conducted by Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd, which stated that Syngenta's investors are "overwhelmingly in favor" of talking to Monsanto for an added 5 percent increase. Outside of the banal aspects of sales negotiations, Syngenta did manage to bring up two very important points of debate. The first is the glaring issue of antitrust laws and regulations that would threaten to shut the whole deal down. As mentioned above, this deal would constitute an unprecedented combination of the world's number one and number three biotech companies.

The hijacking of the world's food chain is on full display in Monsanto's dogged determination to acquire Syngenta.

Secondly, was Syngenta's concern about merging with a company of Monsanto's reputation; given that both companies have practically identical legacies, it is slightly odd that this would concern Syngenta. I suspect that Syngenta's uneasiness stems from the extreme public backlash that Monsanto has deservedly earned as of late. Looking from Syngenta's standpoint, one would conclude that the company brought up very valid reasons for its initial apprehensiveness about the proposed merger. But it is Monsanto's rebuttal - made in an attempt to allay Syngenta's fears - that should strike fear into people all across the world.

With a level of hubris that one typically reserves for times when a desired outcome has privately been declared a forgone conclusion, Monsanto's CEO, Hugh Grant, easily dismissed Syngenta's antitrust concerns and reiterated his "high degree of confidence" for gaining all the necessary regulatory approvals. Grant also went on to offer the "highest reverse breakup fee that any company has agreed to." Reverse breakup fees are fines levied on the acquiring company and paid to the target company should a deal be blocked by such pesky things as "regulations." The $2 billion reverse breakup fee that Monsanto has offered amounts to roughly 25 percent of the company's reported gross profits from 2014. On Monsanto's part, this fee constitutes an "all-in" maneuver.

In the game of poker, when players go "all-in," there are but two possibilities for that action: either they have a hand which they know will win, or they are bluffing and hope the other players don't want to risk calling them on it. This is in stark contrast to how things are played in the corporate world, where a company is legally mandated to consistently make a profit for its investors and shareholders. The risk associated with an "all-in" approach would come with significant legal and financial ramifications for a company's executives and future in general. With that in mind, there can be only one explanation for Monsanto's "all-in" and that is - to steal a line from the credit card industry - because the company has been "pre-approved."

Given the existence of reports like the 2013 corporate profiling of Monsanto, which shows the extent to which Monsanto has infiltrated regulatory, legislative and educational bodies - not to mention the incalculable amounts of money that it has showered onto Congress - why would the company have any worries? Everything is going precisely according to plan. And if sheer confidence in the ability to skirt regulations weren't enough to convince Syngenta, Monsanto also wanted to show that it isn't scared to flex its financial muscle and play dirty. Grant, in his rebuttal letter to Syngenta, also went on to imply just how much power and influence Monsanto has over the market by stating,

It is unfortunate that our initial approach to you was leaked to the press shortly before your rejection letter was received by us. The speculation and uncertainty have potentially negative effects on employees in both organizations, and on the value of the combination.

In addition to financial bullying, Monsanto has also openly talked to media sources about a possible hostile takeover, though the company claims this action to be "a ways out." Monsanto's actions reveal just how perverse the quest for absolute power and control can be. The hijacking of the world's food chain is on full display in Monsanto's dogged determination to acquire Syngenta. Along the way, the agricultural giant is running roughshod over any pretensions to democratic processes and quickly ushering us into the age of the "food führer."

In the hopes of obscuring past infractions and inciting a full-blown case of social amnesia, Monsanto has also proposed to rename the combined company - in addressing Syngenta's final concern - with Grant expressing his desire to "reinvent Monsanto one more time." Now, I must admit that this proffered rebrand was the issue that originally piqued my interest and drew my ire. How dare this rightly sullied organization attempt to deceive future generations of consumers and farmers by simply changing its mask and hoping that everyone will just forget who it was? But I have since come to share the same view as Joel Salatin, a well-known organic farmer and author, when he expressed via email, "I guess I'm of the opinion that the folks who hate Monsanto will all know about the change and hate the new entity. When something is this big and in the public eye, the name doesn't mean that much." He's absolutely right. The great affront at play is clearly the control over government that Monsanto has and the global food monopoly it wishes to create.

So, here we are standing at the precipice of the ultimate battle for our food sovereignty and one naturally has to ask: "What can we do to stop this?" First, we must look at what has already been done.

The Struggle for Food Sovereignty

The groups comprising the anti-Monsanto movement have primarily employed three different tactics in their struggles against the food giant. The first has been the impassioned call for their members, along with the general public, to "vote with your purchases"; the second has been to move into the political arena in the hopes of stopping Monsanto electorally and legislatively; and lastly, there has been the staging of protests, which have commonly come in the form of marches. These are three rather distinct tactics, yet common to all is the ideological pathology of deluded deferential dissent - the unflinching deference to and courteous, peaceable appeals for the very system and institutions to solve those problems, which are knowingly outgrowths thereof. The anti-Monsanto movement's adherence to these three tactics, in conjunction with the full expression of the pathology contained within them, has subsequently led to another commonality: utter ineffectiveness in halting the spread of Monsanto's products and power. Since 2007, the year the first opposition group arose, Monsanto's net sales and gross profit have both more than doubled, and the company's march toward complete domination of the world's food supply - by controlling its seeds - has not been impeded in any semantical sense of the word.

My intention in pointing out this glaring failure of the anti-Monsanto movement to effect any change is meant to encourage an honest, objective review of the interplay between these movements' tactics and results.

The conglomerate that Monsanto wishes to create wants to snatch the building blocks of our food supply away from us.

The organizations that stand in defiance to Monsanto have - to their credit - reached millions with their message and sparked people to start engaging the structures of corporate power within our society, but they are simply not taking their actions far enough, not if they want to see their ultimate goals come to fruition. To stay planted within the political realm, where Monsanto holds all the levers, is to remain impotent. What is needed is the immediate revival of those directly confrontational tactics that were to become the hallmark of the labor movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These activist groups should be using their vast influence to encourage and stand in solidarity with actions such as those taken by activists in Oregon when they surreptitiously burned 40 tons of Syngenta's genetically modified sugar beets to the ground, or in France where fields were yanked from the earth under the cover of night.

The time for civility is over!

While people are marching around chanting their cleverly worded slogans or pussyfooting in the legislative halls, Monsanto is blatantly consolidating its grasp on the world's food supply. World-renowned environmental activist and anti-globalization author Dr. Vandana Shiva once forebodingly declared:

If they control seed, they control food. They know it and it's strategic. It's more powerful than bombs; it's more powerful than guns. This is the best way to control the populations of the world.

Monsanto's actions clearly indicate that they've taken Shiva's prescient words to heart and twisted them into a new mission statement of insidious design.

The conglomerate that Monsanto wishes to create wants to snatch the building blocks of our food supply away from us. To return the favor in kind, we should start dismantling the building blocks of the very infrastructure that has allowed the company to do so.

If we cannot muster the courage to fight the monstrosity that will soon descend upon us by utilizing the full spectrum of actions that are desperately needed to eradicate it, we will leave a legacy of shame for future generations.

Besides, food fights can be fun! Right?

Opinion Tue, 06 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: The Corporate Elite Rig the System Against Us, and More

In today's On the News segment: Americans pay more for food, internet, banking services, airline tickets and prescription drugs than citizens of any other advanced nation; room and board charges are actually the fastest-growing expense related to going to college; Donald Trump's new tax plan calls for giant tax cuts for corporations and millionaires, and would create a huge budget deficit; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.


Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...

You need to know this. It seems like the most popular word in this election cycle is "inequality," but we need more than talk to narrow the great divide between the haves and have-nots in our nation. According to a recent article by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, the pro-corporate elite have rigged the system against us, and it's going to take the majority of us standing together to change the system. As Secretary Reich explains, Americans pay more for food, internet, banking services, airline tickets and prescription drugs than citizens of any other advanced nation. Despite that, we give corporations the power to create their own set of rules, which ensure that we can never challenge those exorbitant prices. Patents and trademarks and other intellectual property rights have been manipulated to benefit the largest companies, while inventors, artists and scientists rarely see much of the profit generated by their own work. Our anti-trust laws once promoted fair competition, but they've been weakened to allow banks, airlines, telecoms and food companies to become giant monopolies. Even our bankruptcy laws have been distorted to make it easy for someone to bankrupt a company, but nearly impossible to discharge debt from student loans or underwater mortgages. According to Robert Reich, "The more basic problem is that the market itself has become tilted ever more in the direction of moneyed interests that have exerted disproportionate influence over it." And, he added, "The answer to this problem is not found in economics. It is found in politics." That's exactly why every single Democratic candidate for president - and even some of the Republicans - has pledged to fight income inequality as a cornerstone of their campaign. But, they will need our help to make it happen. The system is rigged and it will take each of us fighting hard to change it. Democracy is not a spectator sport and now is the time for each of us to get active.

There has been a lot of focus on the rising cost of college tuition, but a huge part of the overall cost of college is hardly being discussed. According to Suzanne McGee of the Guardian newspaper, room and board charges are actually the fastest-growing expense, and may be the easiest place to find some savings. In fact, these costs are often higher than the tuition rates that have gotten so much attention. For example, McGee says that in-state residents will pay about $10,000 per year in tuition and fees at Ohio State University, but students and parents will have to fork over another $11,600 for that university's most popular room and board plan. And, lodging and meal plans cost even more in cities like New York and Berkeley. The good news is that a student can cut the cost of their degree substantially by living off campus during college, or lower the cost by half simply by staying at home. Public scrutiny and regulation have started to keep tuition rates in check, but room and board charges - which aren't being watched - are rising fast. The best way to address this problem is to make public college free for all students, and to regulate all room and board charges to protect students and their families.

Donald Trump's new tax plan is huge. As in, the giant tax cuts he wants to give corporations and millionaires would create a huge budget deficit. According to the conservative Tax Foundation, "the Donald's" plan would add about $12 trillion to the deficit over the next decade, but his campaign calls that plan "fiscally responsible." Mr. Trump says he will create jobs by cutting the corporate tax rate to 15 percent and eliminating the estate tax, but he may be overestimating the number of people that the rich might hire to count their piles of money. When he announced his plan, Mr. Trump said that he would take on "the hedge fund guys," but his plan actually gives them a huge tax cut. According to Robert McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice, "Trump has made many false claims about his tax plan. Of course, he's been known to say many other things that aren't true, too."

For all their talk about family values, it turns out that Republicans aren't willing to put their money where their mouths are when it comes to taking care of kids. According to a recent article over at the Think Progress blog, total federal spending on children made up only 10 percent of total spending in 2014, and that number could fall further in the years to come. Although government spending on seniors is protected, the money earmarked for children is increasingly under attack. From public education to nutritional programs, and everything in between, it's been a fight to keep Republicans from slashing budgets more than they've already been cut. Funding new programs that benefit our kids has pretty much been out of the question. As Julia Isaacs of the Urban Institute explained, "Many children's programs like Head Start depend on annual appropriations, so they get squeezed every time there's a budget cap." Our budget should never be balanced on the backs of children, and any lawmakers who cut these programs should keep quiet about their so-called "family values."

And finally... Whether or not you're a supporter of Bernie Sanders, you should be a fan of his views on worker-owned cooperatives. That's the business model which allows employees to own a piece of the company, and allows them to help shape the business's policies on things like employee pay and customer relations. In a recent article over at, Joe Fletcher highlighted this important plank in the Democratic candidate's 2016 platform. According to Fletcher, in 2014, Senator Sanders introduced legislation to help build more worker-owned co-ops, which often have higher wages and better benefits than typical corporate entities. In a press release about that legislation, Sanders said, "we need to expand economic models that help the middle class. I strongly believe that employee ownership is one of those models." Let's encourage all 2016 candidates to support this business model so that we can expand worker-owned co-ops all over our nation.

And that's the way it is - for the week of October 5, 2015 - I'm Thom Hartmann - on the Economic and Labor News.

News Mon, 05 Oct 2015 13:12:46 -0400
"Economic Migrants" Getting Bad Rap in Refugee Debate

There is a difference between economic migrants and refugees, the latter defined as those fleeing war or persecution. Economic migrants, individuals who move from place to place in search of employment or other ways to support themselves and their families, also deserve the right to relocate, as they are fleeing another kind of violence: poverty.

 Migrants at the Abu Salim detention center in Tripoli, Libya, April 25, 2015. Many of the African migrants trying to get to Europe, hundreds of which end up drowning, come from countries in Africa that are not at war, and are not especially repressive. (Tyler Hicks / The New York Times) Migrants at the Abu Salim detention center in Tripoli, Libya, April 25, 2015. Many of the African migrants trying to get to Europe, hundreds of which end up drowning, come from countries in Africa that are not at war, and are not especially repressive. (Tyler Hicks / The New York Times)

As sympathy from around the world pours in for victims of war seeking asylum in the West, government leaders from Europe to the United States who once dug their feet are finally agreeing to open their doors to more refugees. But there is one category of people that are specifically being excluded, in some cases with scorn: the population known as "economic migrants."

Simply defined, these are individuals who move from place to place in search of employment or other ways to earn an income to support themselves or their families back home. The World Bank estimates that overall, there are about 250 million migrants globally - and nine out of 10 are economic migrants. Just 3 percent are refugees.

Yet both the mainstream media and government leaders are quick to dismiss them as somehow less worthy than those fleeing war and physical persecution.

"What we see [with these people] has nothing to do with seeking refuge and safety," said Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, as reported by The Washington Post. "It is nothing but opportunism."

The UK's Telegraph reported that, "Migrants from North Africa and the Middle East are using fake Syrian passports bought via Facebook to pose as refugees and enter Europe. Thousands of fraudulent documents are in circulation in Turkey and other migration routes into the EU, which the head of Europe's border police described as a 'windfall' for economic migrants."

Not to be outdone, The Washington Post revealed that, "There are well-dressed Iranians speaking Farsi who insist they are members of the persecuted Yazidis of Iraq."

The UK's Express added that Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to call for a tougher stance on migrants entering the European Union among "genuine" refugees.

There are indeed some people trying to escape their home country for reasons that are trivial when compared to the abject tragedy of others. And there is indeed a difference between economic migrants and refugees, defined as those fleeing war or persecution. It's also true that the brutality of war demands immediate action and thus priority resettlement for its victims.

However, before we too easily dismiss these seemingly trifling "others," it's worthwhile to take a look at who they are and why they often take the same risks as refugees to create a better life.

Perhaps it cannot be put more poignantly than how it was by a 20-year-old Palestinian named Ahmed Al-Naouq, assistant for a project called We Are Not Numbers: "War leads to the killing of humans physically. Poverty leads to the killing of humans mentally and spiritually. Poverty is cruel."

Al-Naouq lives in the Gaza Strip, a place that is often torn apart by war but is not considered a source of "genuine refugees" (as is Syria, Iraq and Eritrea). However, unemployment is an estimated 60 percent among young adults in Gaza due to the stifling Israeli blockade, and in September, the UN Conference on Trade and Development predicted that if current trends continue, the Gaza Strip will be "uninhabitable by 2020."

"[The 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza] has effectively eliminated what was left of the middle class, sending almost all of the population into destitution," the report observed.

Palestinians are not alone, of course. There is a world of pain out there, and not just from war and occupation. Take Egypt, for instance, which has tumbled even further into poverty and oppression since the revolution in 2011 and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's ascension to the presidency in 2014. According to the country's Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, about a quarter of all Egyptians earn below the poverty line; in Upper Egypt, 49 percent of residents cannot provide for basic food needs. Dissidents from any faction are thrown in prison if they speak out. Mohammed Salah, a 31-year-old who lives just outside of Cairo, completed an undergraduate degree in history ("Egyptology"), but says he has been unable to pay the fee required to receive his graduation certificate, without which he can't get the job he wants as a government tour guide. For all other jobs he earns barely enough to cover his transportation costs. Unemployed at an age when most are usually marrying, he continues to live in his parents' home and takes class after class in Chinese and other languages in the hope that one day he can emigrate and use his linguistic skills abroad.

"I am so sorry about the war in Syria, and I want the people to have the chance to live," he said. "But what about me? I ... feel like my future is going further down the drain every day."

Kathleen Newland, cofounder of the Migration Policy Institute, commented at a recent World Affairs Council meeting in Washington, DC, that, "It is becoming more and more difficult to draw a bright line between refugees and non-refugees of all types. Many non-refugees migrate under some sort of compulsion, including extreme poverty, which is as much a humanitarian issue as the violence of war."

It goes almost without saying that there is almost no support for totally open borders, and the capacity of any one country is not unlimited. However, at the same DC meeting, Dilip Ratha, head of the Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD) for the World Bank, urged a much more inclusive and embracing view of migration in general. In fact, he warned that anything but will mean increasing poverty and rebellion in one part of the world and an aging population without the means to support itself in the other.

"Most migrants are simply looking for a job," he said, "not the perfect job, but anything that will allow them to support themselves and their families. People must move, and we should be glad they do."

In 2014, Ratha told Truthout, migrants sent home $436 billion in remittances to support family members left behind. That compares to just $135 billion in donor aid. Unlike common perception, "It's the poor people who are providing a lifeline to their families back home, not the international community," he said.

According to Ratha's World Bank team, migrants send home an average of $200 per month. Repeated month after month, by millions of people, this sum of money adds up to "rivers of foreign currency." In 2014, India received $72 billion in remittances, larger than what it receives from its IT exports. In Egypt, remittances are three times the size of revenues from the Suez Canal. And in poorer, smaller, fragile and conflict-afflicted countries, remittances are a lifeline, as in Somalia or Haiti. That is, as long as they are allowed to move.

But that's how the developing countries benefit. What about wealthier nations? The focus has been almost exclusively on competition for jobs. However, there is a lot of evidence at the macro, long-term level that the opposite is true.

"There's not any credible research that I know of that in the medium- and long-term that refugees are anything but a hugely profitable investment," Michael Clemens, a senior fellow who leads the Migration and Development Initiative at the Center for Global Development, recently told The Washington Post.

Refugees and other migrants who do not have jobs waiting for them open small businesses at a high rate, creating ripples of more commerce for everyone. Their arrival also boosts demand for food, shelter, infrastructure and many other services.

"There is a myth that desirable immigrants are the ones with PhDs, and that people with only high school degrees aren't desirable. But there's no economic substance behind that myth," Clemens added.

And then there is the stark fact that many countries are aging rapidly. Germany's population, for example, is expected to shrink from 81 million inhabitants to around 68 to 73 million in 2060. Since most refugees are younger, they can provide a boost to the working age population that will help economies grow and pay for the care of elders. In fact, Americans should thank immigrants for their comparatively strong demographic situation. In 2014, the Pew Research Center estimated that, from 1960 to 2005, immigrants and their descendants accounted for 51 percent of the increase in the US population. Looking ahead, from 2005 to 2050, immigrants and their descendants are projected to contribute 82 percent of the total increase in the US population. Without immigration, Pew noted, the United States would face the same kind of aging problems that Europe does.

I work in the community development field in the United States, and it is a common mantra that one's zip code should not determine one's fate. It seems to me that the same is true at the global level.

As the World Bank's Ratha asked rhetorically, "Do we take the approach that we must stop people who are desperate to move due to poverty and crime? Are we still 'barbarians' who think everyone must stick to their tribe, and thus are born to their fate? Moving to improve is a basic human instinct, and should be a basic human right. It is up to us to learn how to manage it."

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