Truthout Stories Tue, 23 Sep 2014 10:39:20 -0400 en-gb Obama's New Jobs Plan Helps Veterans and the Environment

Now here's a plan that makes sense: the Obama administration has revealed a new jobs initiative that teaches Americans how to install solar energy panels. Better still, the initiative will specifically target veterans, who often have trouble finding careers back at home. Helping the environment and veterans to support themselves? Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

The White House's program, called the SunShot Initiative's Solar Instructor Training Network, has already undergone a successful testing period on a smaller scale. In its early stages, the program has certified about 1,000 instructors, with the goal of training at least 50,000 new solar employees by the end of the decade.

The booming industry has already become a prime source of jobs in the country – nearly 150,000 Americans had full-time, solar energy-related jobs as of 2013. Given the country's plans to shift toward solar power more aggressively, the number of people with these careers will also need to increase dramatically.

Though the program is not exclusive to military members, the Obama administration is taking steps to ensure that veterans have easy access to this training. To start, the SunShot program will be unveiled at military bases in order to explicitly target Americans who need a new trade after completing their military service.

"Service members in this pilot program will learn how to size and install solar panels, connect electricity to the grid, and interpret and comply with local building codes," announced Dan Utech, an aid to Obama on energy and climate change. "This intensive training will prepare them for careers in the solar industry as installers, sales representatives, system inspectors, and other solar-related occupations.

To ensure that the veterans receive not only the training, but also well-paying jobs, SunPower, Vivint Solar and SolarCity, three of the nation's most prominent solar companies, have vowed to interview candidates who have completed the SunShot program.

In a lot of ways, Obama's hands are tied when it comes to addressing climate change since Congress is unwilling to pass useful legislation. However, this jobs plan is a way of circumventing Congress altogether with the power he does have in order to do something positive for the country.

This jobs plan isn't the only solar initiative currently in the works. Additionally, the Agricultural Department has allotted $70 million to cover new solar projects specifically in farming communities.

News Tue, 23 Sep 2014 10:24:11 -0400
Apocalypse Now, Iraq Edition: Fighting in Iraq Until Hell Freezes Over

I wanted to offer a wry chuckle before we headed into the heavy stuff about Iraq, so I tried to start this article with a suitably ironic formulation. You know, a déjà-vu-all-over-again kinda thing. I even thought about telling you how, in 2011, I contacted a noted author to blurb my book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, and he presciently declined, saying sardonically, “So you're gonna be the one to write the last book on failure in Iraq?”

I couldn't do any of that. As someone who cares deeply about this country, I find it beyond belief that Washington has again plunged into the swamp of the Sunni-Shia mess in Iraq. A young soldier now deployed as one of the 1,600 non-boots-on-the-ground there might have been eight years old when the 2003 invasion took place. He probably had to ask his dad about it.  After all, less than three years ago, when dad finally came home with his head “held high,” President Obama assured Americans that “we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.” So what happened in the blink of an eye?

The Sons of Iraq

Sometimes, when I turn on the TV these days, the sense of seeing once again places in Iraq I'd been overwhelms me. After 22 years as a diplomat with the Department of State, I spent 12 long months in Iraq in 2009-2010 as part of the American occupation. My role was to lead two teams in “reconstructing” the nation. In practice, that meant paying for schools that would never be completed, setting up pastry shops on streets without water or electricity, and conducting endless propaganda events on Washington-generated themes of the week (“small business,” “women's empowerment,” “democracy building.”)

We even organized awkward soccer matches, where American taxpayer money was used to coerce reluctant Sunni teams into facing off against hesitant Shia ones in hopes that, somehow, the chaos created by the American invasion could be ameliorated on the playing field. In an afternoon, we definitively failed to reconcile the millennium-old Sunni-Shia divide we had sparked into ethnic-cleansing-style life in 2003-2004, even if the score was carefully stage managed into a tie by the 82nd Airborne soldiers with whom I worked.

In 2006, the U.S. brokered the ascension to power of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia politician handpicked to unite Iraq. A bright, shining lie of a plan soon followed. Applying vast amounts of money, Washington’s emissaries created the Sahwa, or Sons of Iraq, a loose grouping of Sunnis anointed as “moderates” who agreed to temporarily stop killing in return for a promised place at the table in the New(er) Iraq. The “political space” for this was to be created by a massive escalation of the American military effort, which gained a particularly marketable name: the surge.

I was charged with meeting the Sahwa leaders in my area. My job back then was to try to persuade them to stay on board just a little longer, even as they came to realize that they'd been had. Maliki’s Shia government in Baghdad, which was already ignoring American entreaties to be inclusive, was hell-bent on ensuring that there would be no Sunni “sons” in its Iraq.

False alliances and double-crosses were not unfamiliar to the Sunni warlords I engaged with. Often, our talk -- over endless tiny glasses of sweet, sweet tea stirred with white-hot metal spoons -- shifted from the Shia and the Americans to their great-grandfathers' struggle against the British. Revenge unfolds over generations, they assured me, and memories are long in the Middle East, they warned.

When I left in 2010, the year before the American military finally departed, the truth on the ground should have been clear enough to anyone with the vision to take it in. Iraq had already been tacitly divided into feuding state-lets controlled by Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds. The Baghdad government had turned into a typical, gleeful third-world kleptocracy fueled by American money, but with a particularly nasty twist: they were also a group of autocrats dedicated to persecuting, marginalizing, degrading, and perhaps one day destroying the country’s Sunni minority.

U.S. influence was fading fast, leaving the State Department, a small military contingent, various spooks, and contractors hidden behind the walls of the billion-dollar embassy (the largest in the world!) that had been built in a moment of imperial hubris. The foreign power with the most influence over events was by then Iran, the country the Bush administration had once been determined to take down alongside Saddam Hussein as part of the Axis of Evil.

The Grandsons of Iraq

The staggering costs of all this -- $25 billion to train the Iraqi Army, $60 billion for the reconstruction-that-wasn’t, $2 trillion for the overall war, almost 4,500 Americans dead and more than 32,000 wounded, and an Iraqi death toll of more than190,000 (though some estimates go as high as a million) -- can now be measured against the results. The nine-year attempt to create an American client state in Iraq failed, tragically and completely. The proof of that is on today's front pages.

According to the crudest possible calculation, we spent blood and got no oil. Instead, America's war of terror resulted in the dissolution of a Middle Eastern post-Cold War stasis that, curiously enough, had been held together by Iraq’s previous autocratic ruler Saddam Hussein. We released a hornet’s nest of Islamic fervor, sectarianism, fundamentalism, and pan-nationalism. Islamic terror groups grew stronger and more diffuse by the year. That horrible lightning over the Middle East that’s left American foreign policy in such an ugly glare will last into our grandchildren's days. There should have been so many futures. Now, there will be so few as the dead accumulate in the ruins of our hubris. That is all that we won.

Under a new president, elected in 2008 in part on his promise to end American military involvement in Iraq, Washington’s strategy morphed into the more media-palatable mantra of “no boots on the ground.” Instead, backed by aggressive intel and the “surgical” application of drone strikes and other kinds of air power, U.S. covert ops were to link up with the “moderate” elements in Islamic governments or among the rebels opposing them -- depending on whether Washington was opting to support a thug government or thug fighters.

The results? Chaos in Libya, highlighted by the flow of advanced weaponry from the arsenals of the dead autocrat Muammar Gaddafi across the Middle East and significant parts of Africa, chaos in Yemen, chaos in Syria, chaos in Somalia, chaos in Kenya, chaos in South Sudan, and, of course, chaos in Iraq.

And then came the Islamic State (IS) and the new “caliphate,” the child born of a neglectful occupation and an autocratic Shia government out to put the Sunnis in their place once and for all. And suddenly we were heading back into Iraq. What, in August 2014, was initially promoted as a limited humanitarian effort to save the Yazidis, a small religious sect that no one in Washington or anywhere else in this country had previously heard of, quickly morphed into those 1,600 American troops back on the ground in Iraq and American planes in the skies from Kurdistan in the north to south of Baghdad. The Yazidis were either abandoned, or saved, or just not needed anymore. Who knows and who, by then, cared?  They had, after all, served their purpose handsomely as the casus belli of this war. Their agony at least had a horrific reality, unlike the supposed attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that propelled a widening war in Vietnam in 1964 or the nonexistent Iraqi WMDs that were the excuse for the invasion of 2003.

The newest Iraq war features Special Operations “trainers,” air strikes against IS fighters using American weapons abandoned by the Iraqi Army (now evidently to be resupplied by Washington), U.S. aircraft taking to the skies from inside Iraq as well as a carrier in the Persian Gulf and possibly elsewhere, and an air war across the border into Syria.

It Takes a Lot of Turning Points To Go In a Circle

The truth on the ground these days is tragically familiar: an Iraq even more divided into feuding state-lets; a Baghdad government kleptocracy about to be reinvigorated by free-flowing American money; and a new Shia prime minister being issued the same 2003-2011 to-do list by Washington: mollify the Sunnis, unify Iraq, and make it snappy. The State Department still stays hidden behind the walls of that billion-dollar embassy. More money will be spent to train the collapsed Iraqi military. Iran remains the foreign power with the most influence over events.

One odd difference should be noted, however: in the last Iraq war, the Iranians sponsored and directed attacks by Shia militias against American occupation forces (and me); now, its special operatives and combat advisors fight side-by-side with those same Shia militias under the cover of American air power. You want real boots on the ground? Iranian forces are already there. It’s certainly an example of how politics makes strange bedfellows, but also of what happens when you assemble your “strategy” on the run.

Obama hardly can be blamed for all of this, but he’s done his part to make it worse -- and worse it will surely get as his administration once again assumes ownership of the Sunni-Shia fight. The “new” unity plan that will fail follows the pattern of the one that did fail in 2007: use American military force to create a political space for “reconciliation” between once-burned, twice-shy Sunnis and a compromise Shia government that American money tries to nudge into an agreement against Iran's wishes. Perhaps whatever new Sunni organization is pasted together, however briefly, by American representatives should be called the Grandsons of Iraq.

Just to add to the general eeriness factor, the key people in charge of putting Washington’s plans into effect are distinctly familiar faces. Brett McGurk, who served in key Iraq policy positions throughout the Bush and Obama administrations, is again the point man as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran. McGurk was once called the “Maliki whisperer” for his closeness to the former prime minister. The current American ambassador, Robert Stephen Beecroft, was deputy chief of mission, the number two at the Baghdad embassy, back in 2011. Diplomatically, another faux coalition of the (remarkably un)willing is being assembled. And the pundits demanding war in a feverish hysteria in Washington are all familiar names, mostly leftovers from the glory days of the 2003 invasion.

Lloyd Austin, the general overseeing America’s new military effort, oversaw the 2011 retreat. General John Allen, brought out of military retirement to coordinate the new war in the region -- he had recently been a civilian advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry -- was deputy commander in Iraq's Anbar province during the surge. Also on the U.S. side, the mercenary security contractors are back, even as President Obama cites, without a hint of irony, the ancient 2002 congressional authorization to invade Iraq he opposed as candidate Obama as one of his legal justifications for this year's war. The Iranians, too, have the same military commander on the ground in Iraq, Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps's Quds Force. Small world. Suleimani also helps direct Hezbollah operations inside Syria.

Even the aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf launching air strikes, the USS George H.W. Bush, is fittingly named after the president who first got us deep into Iraq almost a quarter century ago. Just consider that for a moment: we have been in Iraq so long that we now have an aircraft carrier named after the president who launched the adventure.

On a 36-month schedule for “destroying” ISIS, the president is already ceding his war to the next president, as was done to him by George W. Bush. That next president may well be Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state as Iraq War 2.0 sputtered to its conclusion. Notably, it was her husband whose administration kept the original Iraq War of 1990-1991 alive via no-fly zones and sanctions. Call that a pedigree of sorts when it comes to fighting in Iraq until hell freezes over.

If there is a summary lesson here, perhaps it’s that there is evidently no hole that can't be dug deeper. How could it be more obvious, after more than two decades of empty declarations of victory in Iraq, that genuine "success," however defined, is impossible? The only way to win is not to play. Otherwise, you’re just a sucker at the geopolitical equivalent of a carnival ringtoss game with a fist full of quarters to trade for a cheap stuffed animal.

Apocalypse Then -- And Now

America’s wars in the Middle East exist in a hallucinatory space where reality is of little import, so if you think you heard all this before, between 2003 and 2010, you did. But for those of us of a certain age, the echoes go back much further. I recently joined a discussion on Dutch television where former Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra made a telling slip of the tongue. As we spoke about ISIS, Hoekstra insisted that the U.S. needed to deny them “sanctuary in Cambodia.” He quickly corrected himself to say “Syria,” but the point was made.

We've been here before, as the failures of American policy and strategy in Vietnam metastasized into war in Cambodia and Laos to deny sanctuary to North Vietnamese forces. As with ISIS, we were told that they were barbarians who sought to impose an evil philosophy across an entire region. They, too, famously needed to be fought “over there” to prevent them from attacking us here. We didn't say “the Homeland” back then, but you get the picture.

As the similarities with Vietnam are telling, so is the difference. When the reality of America's failure in Vietnam finally became so clear that there was no one left to lie to, America's war there ended and the troops came home. They never went back. America is now fighting the Iraq War for the third time, somehow madly expecting different results, while guaranteeing only failure. To paraphrase a young John Kerry, himself back from Vietnam, who'll be the last to die for that endless mistake? It seems as if it will be many years before we know.

Opinion Tue, 23 Sep 2014 10:04:00 -0400
What Happens to Christianity When People Stop Believing in Hell?

Three years ago, my sister, who had long struggled with mental illness, hit her limit and jumped off a freeway bridge. She lived.

She was rushed to the county trauma center, and by the time I arrived from Seattle she was hooked up to an array of life support technologies and monitors. Brain trauma made it hard to know how much she understood of her situation or our conversations, and to know whether she would live.

One night, while she was in this state, I said to her, "Katha, I don't know if you can hear me, but I want you to know that we all want for you whatever you want for yourself. If you want to fight this thing and try again, we want that. If you are sick of fighting and ready to be done, that's ok too." While I spoke to her, a nurse was doing record keeping at a computer terminal near the foot of her bed. Some time later when I got up to leave, he approached me and said, "You know, if your sister dies right now she will go to hell."

I was too flabbergasted to respond—incredulous that he would say this to me in a public taxpayer-funded hospital; even more incredulous that he would say it where she could hear, if she could hear. I thanked him for his concern and left.

The Lake of Fire, Everlasting Punishment, Perdition, Gehenna, the Inferno, the Abyss, Outer Darkness Where There Shall be Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth . . . . Hell has many names and conjures many images—all of them aimed at triggering a sense of horror. Some of these names and descriptions arguably can be found in the Bible—the Christian New Testament at least—and threats of eternal torture used to be a fine way for Christian ministers and missionaries to win converts or keep "the faithful" faithful.

Famed Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards ("Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God") waxed eloquent on the topic, elaborating why simple annihilation was insufficient punishment to satisfy the demands of divine justice. Two hundred years later, Billy Graham drove tent revivals across America by pounding pulpits about the threat. Anglican author C.S. Lewis, beloved of modern Evangelicals, said, "If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next" (Mere Christianity).

I think of heaven and hell as donkey motivators—carrots and sticks. What is the most glamorous eternity an Iron Age peasant could dream of? Streets of gold, gem encrusted walls, white robes, no work, and eternal youth. How about the most horrific? Monsters, darkness and agony, burning and thirst that never end. Give me a drink,the rich man in hell begs Father Abraham in the book of Luke, just a drop on the end of a finger. But Abraham instead reminds him that he already had his turn at the good things in life.

For two millennia, the threat of hell has been one of Christianity's core assets. It provided the recruiting tool known as Pascal's Wager, defined thus by the Oxford dictionary: The argument that it is in one's own best interest to behave as if God exists, since the possibility of eternal punishment in hell outweighs any advantage of believing otherwise. Better safe than sorry.

I once knew an elderly lawyer who had been a nontheist for decades though raised in Christian fundamentalism. As death approached, he confided that although he knew hell couldn't be real, he couldn't stop thinking about it and wondering and worrying . . . What if I'm wrong?

I understand the fear; as a child in an evangelical family I asked Jesus into my heart several times, just to be sure. Hell is a scary place. For many people the threat of eternal damnation, instilled in childhood, is so powerful that they simply shut out any questions that might undermine their assurance of salvation.

Because the specter of hell is so frightening and has worked so well for two millennia, some Christian leaders are responding to the modern growth of skepticism by doubling down on the threat, working to make it more visual and visceral. A traveling theatrical production called "Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flames" makes its way from megachurch to megachurch illustrating the anguish of the damned. The website Catholic Answers analyses Church doctrine and assures believers that hell exists and is already populated with sinners. Come Halloween, we can expect another round of Evangelical "hell houses" aimed at wooing fright-loving, fun-loving teens and then convincing them the danger is real.

Pascal's wager routinely makes the rounds of the internet as an argument for faith, often coupled with C.S. Lewis's forced-choice "trilemma": Jesus was a liar, lunatic, or Lord—Which one are you going to pick? (Note that both the wager and the trilemma are readily dismissed. Lewis omitted, for example, the fourth possibility that the Jesus of the Bible was mostly legend, while Pascal fails to note that committing to the Christian god may condemn you to another god's hell. Eternal ice, anyone? There are, after all, lots of versions of eternal torture to choose from.

But increasingly, the specter of a divine torture chamber may be something that turns people away from religion rather than chasing sheep into the fold and keeping them there. Facebook memes compare the Christian god to an abuser who says I love you so much that I'll hurt you if you don't love me back.Vyckie Garrison, founder of No Longer Quivering, uses the "Power and Control Wheel of Abuse" to illustrate her former relationship with Jesus. New Calvinist fire-brands like women-are-penis-homes mega-pastor Mark Driscoll may wax eloquent about universal human depravity and eternal torture, but Christians broadly are becoming reluctant to say that anyone who doesn't share their faith is going to be tortured forever—even if that is what they think.

When actor Robin Williams committed suicide in August after a long running battle with cyclical depression, Trent Horn, who writes for Catholic Answers, tweeted, "The rules for talking about Robin Williams: Don't say where he is now, don't promote your own cause/message, do pray for him and his family." I sarcastically translated his tweet as, Don't say what you think. Don't say what you think. If you absolutely must talk about it, talk to someone who's not listening.Because the bottom line is this: for centuries the Catholic Church identified suicide as a mortal sin and denied a Catholic funeral and burial to those who committed suicide.

In actual practice these days, once a suicide has occurred Catholic priests often scramble to avoid blaming (and so condemning) the victim. They point to mitigating circumstances like depression and suffering, which may diminish the free and conscious choice of the person in question and so his or her eternal culpability.

But even today, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops—acting as god's authorities here on Earth, so they believe—have pitted themselves against death-with-dignity laws that allow for rational suicide of terminal patients. They argue instead that dying men and women whose suffering can't be relieved should be taught to embrace a Christian belief in redemptive suffering. (See Number 5 of the Ethical and Religious Directives that govern Catholic healthcare.)

That brings us back to the topic of hell, because the whole point of the Christian hell is that suffering there is not redemptive. It is, somehow, simultaneously unendurable and endured eternally and fair, created and administered by a deity who knew in advance that most humans would end up there and yet who created us anyway because loves us so much .

This is where the moral house of cards collapses, and the value of hell as a recruiting device may as well, because it is increasingly difficult to convince educated people that they and their friends and children deserve infinite suffering for finite failings—or that a god who acts like an Iron Age tyrant (or domestic abuser) is the model of perfect love. A group called Child Evangelism Fellowship aroused intense opposition in Portland last summer in part because outsiders to biblical Christianity were appalled that insiders would try to convert small children by threatening them with torture.

And so, increasingly the time-honored Christian doctrine of hell is being put into a dark closet where the folks most likely to shine a flashlight on it are anti-theists like me who would rather see it exposed to the bright light of reason and compassion or universalist Christians who question whether it was ever biblical to begin with.

The appeal of hell as a part of the faith package appears to be in decline, even among Evangelicals. According to a 2011 survey, while 92% of Americans claimed some sort of belief in God, only 75% believed in hell. A 2013 Harris poll put belief in the devil and hell at 58 percent. As one theology professor, Mike Wittmer, put it: "In a pluralistic, post-modern world, students are having a more difficult time with (the idea of) people going to hell forever because they didn't believe the right thing."

The decline in hell-belief may be due to the same factors that seem to be causing the decline in Bible belief more broadly—globalization and the internet. It gets harder to imagine oneself blissfully indifferent to the eternal torture of Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and atheists when those people have names and faces and are (Facebook) friends.

Even so, for many Christians the notion that sinners will suffer for eternity offers some lingering satisfaction. This is possible only because most people who believe in hell also believe, at least on the surface, that they are part of an exclusive club that isn't going there. When Pentecostal Bishop Carleton Pearson transitioned from preaching hellfire and brimstone to preaching what he called, "the gospel of inclusion," most of his congregation wasn't ready for to go there. He lost church, friends, and livelihood.

Ultimately, Pearson moved with his wife and family to Chicago, where he launched a "radically inclusive spiritual community." Retired Anglican bishop, John Shelby Spong, author of Why Christianity Must Change or Diepraised Pearson's transformation: "The God Bishop Pearson is serving is a God of love, not judgment; a God of universalism, not sectarianism; a God of expansion, not control." Spong called Pierson's Gospel of Inclusion "intriguing, provocative and hopeful, a surprising twist in our ancient faith story."

Radical inclusion means that Pearson opens the door even to even humanists and atheists, not as potential converts but as potential spiritual kin. Without a hell to send them to, what else is one to do?

Opinion Tue, 23 Sep 2014 09:32:02 -0400
It's Not the Carbon; It's the Capitalism!

Naomi Klein, author of the groundbreaking books, No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, is back with a new groundbreaking work, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. The book resets the debate over global warming by focusing on how it is integrally related to the current economic system that spans the globe. Contribute to Truthout and receive this vitally important work. Click here now.

The big climate march in New York City and a big new book have concentrated attention on the climate. Enough denial and delay the marchers chant; This Changes Everything, says Naomi Klein in her latest call to action.

"It's not about carbon, it's about capitalism," says Klein.

I couldn't agree more. It's time we faced not just the symptoms, but the system that is cozying us up to catastrophe.

Our economic system of extract, exploit and profit is colliding with our eco-system, writes Klein and in case anyone is unclear about the consequences of that: when the ideology of infinite growth meets the reality of finite fuel and earth, reality is the odds-on favorite. We can't keep drilling and billing the future forever.

It's a relief to see people in the streets and a relief to see Crisis and Capitalism in the same sentence. We heard plenty about the crisis of capitalism during the last recession. What Klein keeps us thinking about is the crisis that is capitalism. After all, only people in crisis will work long hours for low pay and someone else's profit.

It's good to see people talking about crisis and capitalism. We need to talk about power too. Not just fuel, but influence. The fossil fuel cartel, reports Klein, spent $400,000 a day last year lobbying Congress and that's not criminal or corruption, that's just democracy under capitalism.

With big profits, comes powerful propaganda. (You only have to look at the underwriting on public television to see that.) And the UN's Climate Summit has seen plenty of greenwashing. While regular people have been in the streets, big business leaders have been in the suites — making all sorts of promises to self-regulate their emissions and come up with market-driven solutions like carbon trading.

But in the hands of unnatural beings like corporations is no place to leave our natural resources. We saw what happened when Wall Street made bet on our homes. What do we think they'll do with our bio-derivatives?

Do we really want commodities traders, who've made a casino out of our food supply, to turn next to our air and water?

As Klein points out, just eight huge agri-businesses firms hold almost all the patents on the latest so-called "climate-ready" crops. They'll never techno-fix our farms and forests without expecting us to pay for it.

Commodities, crisis, climate, capitalism. Lots of good words are in the mix. The word we need to take out and give up on is confidence, confidence that anything but a systems change will fix this. Because what needs fixing isn't just the carbon, remember; it's capitalism and the concentration of wealth and power.

If we fail to act, the same people who profit off war, will certainly find a way to make a mint off warming.

Opinion Tue, 23 Sep 2014 09:04:07 -0400
Fantasy Football League

Copyright Universal Uclick.

Art Tue, 23 Sep 2014 08:58:00 -0400
Iraq War Veteran Warns Ferguson Is Our Future - and Our Past



2014.9.23.Ferguson.MainMissouri National Guard members start to pack up during the evening at their command center in Ferguson, Missouri, August 22, 2014. (Photo: Richard Perry / The New York Times)

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The shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, a district of St. Louis County in Missouri, and the spate of civil unrest that followed - bringing the ongoing state violence inflicted on African-Americans to broad public light - could set a precedent for the future of American society, according to a senior Iraq War veteran and Pentagon defense analyst.

Terron Sims, an African-American activist who focuses on local and national Democratic politics and previously served five years in the United States Army, said during an interview last month that without a fundamental cultural and institutional change in American policing across the country, the United States could see more Ferguson-type events in the near future.

Sims was a company commander during the 2003 Iraq War whose job was to engage with the local civilian population in Baghdad on behalf of the US military. He was the main senior US Army officer liaising between the Coalition Provisional Authority, the UN, and Baghdad's Tisa Nissan district, where he facilitated and mentored the local government - without having to resort to force. He later served as a senior operations manager and analyst tasking units for worldwide Army counter-terrorism operations and creating the Pentagon's installation budget systems.

Following his military service, Sims served on Barack Obama's defense policy team during his 2008 presidential campaign and represented Obama himself as a campaign surrogate. He went on to become active in Washington, DC, Democratic politics, in particular working to advance the role of black and ethnic minority communities in the political process. In 2009, he won the Josephine Marshall Award for his work in the Democratic Black Caucus and last year was selected by the Virginia Leadership Institute among top 10 black leaders.

In an interview in Washington, DC, where Sims is president of the North Virginia Black Democrats and a leading national security expert on the Board of Principals at the Truman National Security Project, he spoke about whether the Ferguson crisis offered a taste of things to come.

"This is a taste of the present, my friend. We're already here. This is America, today," said Terron Sims. "And if we don't deal with the root cause in terms of widespread racial discrimination against black people, this will be our tomorrow."

The Ferguson crisis has sparked a national debate on the culture of policing in the United States toward black communities, as well as the increasing militarization of the police due to a federal Pentagon program providing military-grade equipment to local police forces at little or no cost.

"Police conduct in Ferguson is a travesty and wake-up call. There are simply no circumstances in the US where the use of military-grade equipment could ever be justified to police civilian communities."

On Tuesday, September 16, Lt. Col. Jon Belmar, the top police officer in St. Louis County, justified the extensive deployment of military-grade equipment to respond to Ferguson unrest. "Had we not had the ability to protect officers with those vehicles, I am afraid that we would have to engage people with our own gunfire," Belmar told USA Today. "I really think having the armor gave us the ability not to have pulled one trigger . . . I think the military uses armor to be able to provide an offensive force, and police departments use trucks like that so they don't have to."

The recent provision of three grenade launchers, 61 rifles and a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle to the Los Angeles School police department prompted civil rights and education groups to write to the US Defense Department demanding an end to the federal supply program to the LA school system. One unidentified police official reportedly said that the weapons were needed "for the safety of staff, students, and personnel" and that the grenade launchers and armored vehicle would only be used in "very specific circumstances," but did not elaborate on the nature of those circumstances.

In contrast, Sims, a West Point Military Academy graduate and company commander during the 2003 Iraq War, said, "Police conduct in Ferguson is a travesty and wake-up call. There are simply no circumstances in the US where the use of military-grade equipment could ever be justified to police civilian communities."

During his Iraq service, Sims was principal civil military officer responsible for liaising with civilians and civilian authorities in Baghdad. He went on to become deputy chief of the US Army's Joint Training Readiness Center at Fort Polk, finally serving as a senior Pentagon analyst before retiring into civilian life.

"The cops that are capable of shooting peaceful, black Americans don't have relationships with the black community."

"We had to deal with far worse than what the cops on the streets of Ferguson were facing," Sims recounted. "But we had to be disciplined. My squadron didn't use force against a single civilian. In fact, part of my job was making sure that our squad worked with and alongside the civilians in Tisa Nissan district, in Baghdad, to ease the transition from a military-run institution to civilian-led government."

During our interview, Terron Sims could barely conceal his disgust at the behavior of police officers in Ferguson toward civilian protestors. "I can't speak for the whole US Army in Iraq, but if our squadron could do it (restrain from using force), I don't understand why American cops can't."

The problem, he said, is that racism continues to be a major problem in American police forces: "This is about an entrenched culture of policing that doesn't work with and alongside communities. Instead, we have police officers roaming around seeing the local community as outsiders, or even worse, as a homogenous enemy. The cops that are capable of shooting peaceful, black Americans don't have relationships with the black community. They don't have any outreach."

Asked how the police should have handled the situation, he said, "The first thing I would've done if I was the police chief was reach out to black community leaders. But obviously in this case, the police clearly don't have the first idea who the community leaders are. But to be honest, if I was the police chief, I'd be asking myself hard questions about how I'd allowed it get to this point in the first place."

A believer in the political process, Sims is currently outreach director for the Arlington County Democratic Committee and chairman of the Veterans and Military Families Caucus for the Democratic Party of Virginia, and he has also drafted policy for the Democratic National Committee. In that context, his verdict on what Ferguson means for the state of America today is damning.

"The shooting of Michael Brown did not come out of the blue," he told me. "Let's not beat about the bush here. It came about through a deepening culture of unaccountable racism. And it's not just about police racism. Obviously in Ferguson we're looking at years of police repression targeted largely at black people, but it goes deeper than that."

"An African American male is killed every 28 hours by US police or vigilantes, with little or no accountability."

Police repression, Sims explained, must "be understood as part of a wider racial crisis in American society. "You look at a place like Ferguson, and you see rampant unemployment, poverty and illiteracy in the black community. These trends have persisted and worsened for years. And there's no money to improve things," he said. "Local government is not investing in education. It's not investing in jobs, in infrastructure. But Ferguson is not an isolated case. Shootings of innocent black people in the United States by cops is at epidemic levels. That follows on the back of massive inequalities between white and black people across America."

It is now widely recognized that the racial divide in the United States has worsened in recent decades along economic lines. In 1970, 33.6 percent of blacks and 10 percent of whites were impoverished. In 2012, 35 percent of blacks lived in poverty, compared to 13 percent of whites. While 5 percent of white Americans are unemployed, more than double - 11 percent - are black. Nearly three quarters of whites own their own home, compared to just 43 percent of blacks. And in the last 25 years, the wealth gap between whites and blacks has nearly tripled. Median household wealth for whites is about $91,400, but a measly $6,400 for black people

Economic inequalities are compounded by the acceleration in police repression of black and ethnic minority communities over the last two years. Official police records demonstrate that, notwithstanding deficiencies in the way information is catalogued, the victims of police shootings are overwhelmingly male, heavily young and disproportionately black.

A startling independent report into "extrajudicial killings" of black people in the United States by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) - an activist organization with chapters in Atlanta, Detroit, Fort Worth-Dallas, Jackson, New Orleans, New York City, Oakland and Washington, DC - raises deeper questions. The report released in May 2013, months before the outbreak of violence in Ferguson, found that an African American male is killed every 28 hours by US police or vigilantes, with little or no accountability. In 2012, a total of 313 black people were unlawfully killed in this way.

Police forces end up being brought into black communities "with the marching orders, equipment and the mentality of an occupying army."

The report contextualizes this systematic violence against black communities by US police forces as part of a wider system of racist repression in which local police departments are entwined with a network of domestic security structures encompassing "the FBI, Homeland Security, CIA, Secret Service, prisons, and private security companies, along with mass surveillance and mass incarceration." Together, this domestic national security apparatus "wages a grand strategy of 'domestic pacification' " through endless "containment campaigns" against groups designated as problematic or dangerous to the system.

The MXGM analysis coheres disturbingly well with mounting evidence of Pentagon contingency planning for "domestic insurgencies" triggered by social, economic, or food shocks, or natural disasters. US federal government planning documents suggest that the Pentagon's role in militarizing local police forces is linked to growing concerns about domestic civil unrest due to the state coming under increasing strain from elevated climate, energy and economic risks.

My in-depth investigation last month into the Pentagon's controversial Minerva research initiative has, for instance, exposed how the US Defense Department is funding universities to develop complex new data-mining tools capable of automatically ranking the threat level from groups and individuals defined as politically "radical." Such tools, which according to NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake could feed directly into the algorithms used to fine-tune the CIA's drone kill lists abroad, are increasingly being used to assess threats from activist and civil society groups in the US homeland.

In a society where racial tensions are intensifying, this dynamic inevitably affects marginalized black and ethnic minority communities disproportionately. Police forces end up being brought into black communities "with the marching orders, equipment and the mentality of an occupying army that inevitably results in systematic extrajudicial killings of citizens without respect for their human rights," the MXGM report found.

"The adoption of military tactics, equipment, training, and weapons leads to law enforcement adopting a war-like mentality," concurred journalist Adam Hudson on the MXGM report's conclusions. "They come to view themselves as soldiers fighting against a foreign enemy rather than police protecting a community."

Given the extent of America's racial divide, does this suggest that the civil rights movement has failed? I put the question to Terron Sims.

"It's not that the movement has failed - it's that it's not over," he told me. "In Ferguson, the conditions have been brewing for a while. Black people are being shot all across America, but the reason it hasn't kicked off everywhere is because the demographics aren't the same. Ferguson has a fairly sizable and concentrated black population, unlike with the shooting of Trayvon Martin for instance in a district in Florida, where the black community is more dispersed and certainly more affluent than in St. Louis."

Indeed, Ferguson represents a microcosm of these problems, with wealth inequalities markedly worse than the national average. For example, census figures for 2012 in St. Louis County show that nearly half of all African American men are unemployed, compared to just 16 percent for white men.

"At those levels of poverty and inequality, with no jobs available and nothing to do all day, that's a serious level of despair and hopelessness," said Sims. "You prod and poke a situation like that, and it's going to start simmering. You shoot a kid in the street in a situation like that for no good reason, well then it's going to explode."

If nothing is done to address these bigger, deeper issues of racial discrimination and inequality, does Ferguson represent the future of the United States?

"Of course it could," said Sims. "I'm not saying Fergusons could happen everywhere, but for sure, if things continue as they are, there'll come a point where the combination of unaccountable, rampant and racist police repression will inflame community tensions in circumstances of growing levels of deprivation and hopelessness. And that's where race riots could become far more of a norm than we might expect. So unless something changes, yes, Ferguson is our future." 

News Tue, 23 Sep 2014 10:32:04 -0400
At New York March, Activists Work to Connect Capitalist Culprits to Climate Crisis

At the largest climate march in history, which saw some 310,000 people converge on New York City streets on September 21, individual activists and organizations made a point to tie climate disruption to those seen as most responsible - major corporations, the financial industry and the governments that allow them to pollute with impunity.

Protestors march down Sixth Avenue during the People's Climate March in New York City, September 21, 2014. (Image: <a href="" target="_blank">Matt Surrusco / Truthout</a>)Protestors march down Sixth Avenue during the People's Climate March in New York City, September 21, 2014. (Image: Matt Surrusco / Truthout)The largest climate march in history, which saw some 310,000 people channeled through New York City streets, according to organizers, brought hundreds of environmental organizations and advocacy groups under the umbrella of the People's Climate March on September 21. In the run-up to the march, some critics argued that in order for the coalition to incorporate so many people it had to become apolitical. The march lacked a clear message and had the markings of a corporate PR campaign, some said.

But on Sunday, along the four-mile march route, cordoned off by New York City Police Department officers and barricades, individual activists and organizations made a point, with visuals and chants, to tie climate disruption to those seen as most responsible - major corporations, the financial industry and the governments that allow them to pollute with impunity.

Signs read "Capitalism is killing the planet" and featured messages that promoted divesting from fossil fuel companies, investing in wind, solar and other alternative energy sources, and remaking the global economy to promote justice and sustainability. Some marchers called out the corporate connection more directly: "ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, send those bastards back to hell!"

Mcnair Scott, a Brooklyn-based organizer, said that while the march mobilized the masses and had a general message to take action on climate change, a smaller, targeted event planned for Monday would connect global warming back "to the villains of the climate crisis."

On Monday, organizers, many affiliated with the Occupy movement, planned to "flood Wall Street" with hundreds of activists calling for an economy that protects people and the environment over corporations and profits. The direct action will include acts of civil disobedience, including a sit-in, organizers said. "It's a continued focus on the perpetrators," Scott told Truthout. "Now is the time we can bring this [economic analysis of the climate issue] into people's consciousness."

"Today is huge," said Jack Boyle, a native New Yorker and Occupy veteran, referring to the hundreds of thousands of people who attended the climate march. "Tomorrow is speaking directly to Wall Street."

The climate march, attendees told Truthout, was focused on bringing out the masses and showing national and world leaders that there is a huge constituency passionate about addressing climate change with real solutions, now.

"It sends a message to leaders around the world that there are a lot of people who will support them," said Paul Emile Anders, of Massachusetts, with an organization called Feisty Doves, which advocates for the use of nonviolent action to protect the climate. He said the march - a potential "tipping point for the environmental movement" - would also be a rally call for other, direct actions - like the Wall Street sit-in on Monday.

The People's Climate March host committee adopted a code of conduct in July, in part, to "encourage the broadest and most diverse involvement possible," and "to help create a family-friendly mobilization."

The march included a diverse mass, of all ages. From high school and college students to veterans, beekeepers to bicyclists, hardcore activists and organizers to liberal Democrats, the message most stressed was an old one for the environmental movement: We must band together to protect the environment for the sake of future generations.

"We want our kids to inherit something that isn't trashed," said Christine Cimini, who traveled to New York City from Vermont with her wife, two children and friends to attend the march.

"It would be so scary to die like a polar bear," 8-year-old Chloe West, Cimini's daughter, told Truthout. "The food chain can begin again, but the earth can't."

One protestor, Ben Weiss, criticized the march for its timing and location, and said that UN headquarters in New York City is "where the action is."

"We are not going to be corralled like lambs," Weiss yelled to marchers across police barricades. "We are going to roar like lions." He distributed flyers calling for a demonstration at the UN from Sunday through Wednesday, while world leaders are meeting for a climate summit.

"[The march organizers are] teaching the people in power that they can get a million people to march, and it won't mean a thing," Weiss told Truthout.

In addition to a few city and federal officials, and some celebrities, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon participated in the march on Sunday, and told MSNBC, repeating a march slogan, "There is no Plan B because we do not have a planet B. We have to work and galvanize our action." Next year, leaders will meet in Paris for a climate change conference aiming to draft an international agreement to cut carbon emissions.

Zara Anucha, an environmental studies major at York University in Toronto, said most people think of Canada as a liberal country, already focused on environmental challenges. In reality, she said, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is pushing for the Keystone XL pipeline, while Obama is not saying clearly whether he is for or against the tar sands development.

"This is something that affects their livelihoods, their lives, their children's lives, and their children's children's lives," Anucha told Truthout, in regards to why she thought so many attended the march.

At a time when climate scientists are reporting that the effects of human-made climate disruption are near or at a point of being "irreversible," humans are feeling the effects of climate change in real-time: increased and ongoing drought in California, stronger storms and extreme weather events, like Superstorm Sandy that hit New York City in 2012, and rising sea levels that are threatening small island nations and coastal communities around the world.

While march organizers didn't endorse specific policies or proposed legislation, march attendees offered a variety of ideas to address climate change: A man from Hawaii supported applying free-market principles and building a solar and hydrogen-powered energy grid, many were opposed to building the Keystone XL pipeline and supported a ban on fracking, and a California woman with the Citizens' Climate Lobby aimed to convince Congress to implement a carbon tax. Many more, especially those also planning to attend the direct action targeting Wall Street, said corporations, the financial industry and capitalism at large were most to blame for the havoc climate disruption has and will continue to create.

At the southern edge of Central Park, a few dozen people sat cross-legged, meditating, some with their eyes closed. The peace and tranquility of the "Earth Vigil" was punctuated by noisy marching bands, whistles, chants and drums from marchers staggering a few blocks down Central Park South before turning down Sixth Avenue along the designated march route.

In early September, "the World Meteorological Organization said the level of carbon dioxide in the air in 2013 was 42 percent above the level that prevailed before the Industrial Revolution," according to The New York Times. This has resulted in the planet warming by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit compared to the preindustrial era, and subsequent land ice melting and sea levels rising.

On Monday morning, climate activists said they would meet in Battery Park in lower Manhattan, where parks, subway stations and streets flooded during Sandy, to hear from speakers, including Chris Hedges and Rebecca Solnit, and participate in nonviolent direction action training. Organizers encouraged participants to wear blue and join in a sit-in on Wall Street. The idea is to tie political and corporate inaction on climate change to the global economy's heavy reliance on carbon emissions to sustain profits and economic growth.

Scarlett Russell, a community organizer from San Francisco, helped greet charter buses filled with marchers from around the country early Sunday morning along 86th Street. At the end of the day, at the other end of the march route, she said, "Something of this magnitude is impossible to ignore."

The climate march, she said, works toward the same goal as more direct actions, like the Flood Wall Street demonstration, "a bolder statement," she would also attend to increase public awareness and political pressure to lower carbon emissions and hold the worst polluters accountable.

"Organizing is like a flower," Russell told Truthout. "You need all the petals for the flower to exist."

News Mon, 22 Sep 2014 15:12:43 -0400
Can a "Firewall Strategy" Keep Big Energy Out of Climate Talks? It Worked for Fighting Tobacco

Red handed(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)This story is part of the Climate in Our Hands collaboration between Truthout and YES! Magazine.

When more than 120 heads of state meet this week to discuss how to “galvanize and catalyze climate action,” they’ll be taking a break for a “private sector luncheon” with guests like Royal Dutch Shell and the Norwegian oil company Statoil.

It won’t be the first time in the negotiations that big oil has made its voice heard. At the 2013 U.N. climate conference in Warsaw, thousands of lobbyists roamed the halls. And three years earlier, when the conference was in Cancun, representatives from Royal Dutch Shell attended as a part of the official Nigerian delegation.

Many observers believe the presence of these industries at the talks has helped to stall meaningful action.

“As long as industries like big oil and big coal, whose profits depend on the failure of the talks, are calling the shots,” said Kelle Louaillier, executive director of the watchdog group Corporate Accountability International, “these talks are going nowhere.”

But what if these industries weren’t allowed to attend?

You might call it “The Firewall Strategy”: a plan to break the gridlock in climate negotiations by excluding polluters. Louaillier’s organization began pursuing this strategy with an open letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, co-signed by 78 organizations. The letter calls on him to “protect climate policy-making from the vested interests of the fossil fuel industry,” and to look to specific language in an earlier treaty about tobacco as an example.

The group ratcheted up the pressure on September 16 with a new petition, and they'll be discussing the idea with many other NGOs this week, including some that have their finger on the pulse of the U.N.’s climate negotiations—officially known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC. Through these discussions, Corporate Accountability International aims to build support for a firewall to safeguard policymaking from energy corporations.

Kicking the polluters out of the negotiations may sound like wishful thinking. But there is a precedent: the global effort to regulate the tobacco industry, which led to one of the most widely adopted treaties in the history of the United Nations.

That treaty is called the “Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” which went into effect in 2005. It seeks to protect public health from what it calls a “tobacco epidemic,” and its provisions are legally binding in the 178 countries that ratified it (along with the European Union). The United States signed the tobacco treaty, but has yet to ratify it—and a treaty is only binding once it has been ratified.

The tobacco treaty contains articles prohibiting sales to minors, banning tobacco advertising, and requiring that packaging contain warning labels.

But it also locks big tobacco out of the room when it comes to drafting and influencing health policy. A single sentence in Article 5.3 insists that parties to the treaty “protect” policymaking on health issues from those with “commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry.”

To clarify what this means in practice, in 2008 the treaty’s ratifiers unanimously adopted a set of guidelines for implementation. The guidelines point out that there are “irreconcilable conflicts” between the interests of the tobacco companies and public health. To avoid these conflicts, the guidelines prohibit tobacco industry employees from serving as delegates, ban policymakers from accepting gifts from tobacco companies, and insist that interactions between policymakers and the tobacco industry be transparent to the public.

These guidelines have allowed officials to create strong laws regulating tobacco in countries from the Philippines to Colombia, despite industry opposition. And when the European Union tried to appoint a lawyer who previously represented tobacco giant Phillip Morris to the ethics committee that oversees conflicts of interest, NGOs pointed to Article 5.3 in a complaint and got him removed from the committee.

Could lawyers connected to Exxon Mobil be excluded from climate summits in the same way? Satu Hassi, a member of the European Parliament from Finland’s Green Party, believes so—and commissioned a report by advocacy group Corporate Europe Observatory to outline the lessons and how to apply them.

Others in the climate movement have recognized the potential of the strategy. sees the firewall strategy as part of a wider array of tactics.

“Strategies like divestment, or banning industry from a sensitive treaty-making processes … are both important and effective,” Jamie Henn, communications director of, told YES.

Drew Hudson, executive director of the nonprofit Environmental Action, said he sees the work of advocating a “firewall strategy” as important because “lying, destructive, polluting haters should not be allowed to sit at the table while the grown ups are trying to solve problems like the climate crisis."

But barriers remain: Nearly 17 years after the Kyoto protocol was signed, the international community is still no closer to a new climate treaty. And many climate negotiators still see the energy industry as an acceptable partner.

Supporters of a firewall strategy also acknowledge there are differences between big tobacco and big oil—specifically, the fact that big oil is even bigger than big tobacco ever was.

“[W]e should be honest about the power of our opposition,” Hudson told YES. “We're talking about excluding the richest, most politically powerful set of corporations in history.”

But Corporate Accountability International and its partners are undeterred: “Twenty years ago, people thought big tobacco was too powerful and the political will didn't exist to exclude it from the treaty negotiations,” Louaillier said. Yet they won anyway though organizing, a “perfect storm of global grassroots support,” and political support from the countries suffering the most from the tobacco epidemic.

To further their cause, Corporate Accountability International has launched a petition calling on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres to “keep big energy out of these historic talks and create meaningful global policies free from corporate influence.”

Big oil may be an even mightier foe than the tobacco industry was in the face of regulation. But given how this new strategy works together with existing efforts to stigmatize the oil and gas industry, from a divestment approach to a treaty-based one, climate activists believe the Goliath of big oil can be felled.

News Mon, 22 Sep 2014 15:17:31 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Senate GOP Blocks Legislation on Gender Pay Gap, and More

In today's On the News segment: Senate Republicans block legislation aimed at closing the gender pay gap; voters in Sweden say "no" to austerity; our government may have bailed out Wall Street, but Rolling Jubilee is bailing out students; and more.


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

You need to know this. Just in time for election season, last week Senate Republicans blocked legislation aimed at closing the gender pay gap. For the third time since 2012, Republicans refused to allow debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act, and reminded women that the GOP doesn't believe in equal pay for equal work. Even in 2014, women still earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts, and there are substantial legal hurdles that prevent women from suing employers for pay discrimination. Senate Democrats introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act years ago, to provide training for salary negotiations, and prevent employers from retaliating against workers who fight for equal pay. Republicans in the upper chamber claim that the legislation would mean more lawsuits, and say that Democrats should be focused on other matters. Senator John McCain said, "Here we have an international crisis, with the defense authorization bill out there, and we refuse to take [that] up." However, many Americans would argue that the Senator from Arizona has his priorities backwards. Just like unemployment, student debt relief, and immigration reform, Republicans continue to block the Paycheck Fairness Act but have no problem voting to fund another war. Americans want Congress to get to work on jobs and infrastructure and equal pay for equal work, but those on the Right refuse to pass anything that could be viewed as a win for the President. Come this November, it's time to remind Congress that they work for us. Let's say enough with the obstruction, and elect new lawmakers who are actually listening to We The People.

When the local couple who owned three retail businesses in Deer Island, Maine started to think about selling, their employees came up with a plan. More than 60 workers got together and bought the couple's three stores – The Gallery, V&S Variety and Pharmacy, and the Burnt Cove Market – and created the largest worker cooperative in the state of Maine. The employees in all three businesses banded together and formed the Island Employee Cooperative, and kept dozens of good paying jobs in their community. In addition to becoming their own boss, these workers also provided a successful model that could be duplicated by workers around the country. It took over a year to form the Island Employee Co-op, but these retail workers fought hard to accomplish their goal. Thanks to that hard work, they will be able to shape their own futures, and they won't have to worry about outsourcing or corporate takeover. Employee-owned cooperatives give power to workers, and hopefully we will see many more co-ops in our future.

Voters in Sweden have said "no" to austerity. Last week, Swedish voters kicked out their pro-austerity lawmakers, and voted the Social Democrat Party in to power. Along with the Green Party and the Left Party, the center-left groups won 43.7 percent of the vote, and 159 seats in Parliament. That vote forced Prime Minister Fredrick Reinfeldt to resign, and to take his "tax-cuts-for-the-rich" and privatization policies with him. Their new leader Stefan Lofven is a former welder and union organizer, and he has promised to reverse Reinfeldt's austerity policies. During his victory speech, Lofven said, "The Swedish people have turned their backs against tax cuts and privatizations. The Swedish people demanded change." The austerity policies of the ousted prime minister have resulted in rising unemployment, increased privatization, and complaints about failing public services. In response to those failures, the Swedish voters changed course and elected a government that recognizes that they can't cut their way to prosperity. Hopefully, voters in our country will do the same.

Leave it to Walmart to find a new way to screw workers. Recently, the company announced a new dress code, which will require employees to buy blue collared shirts. According to federal labor law, workers can't be forced to buy new uniforms if paying for them drops wages below the federal minimum hourly wage. However, Walmart is getting around that regulation by insisting the new, required shirts aren't uniforms – they're part of a "dress code." Because the new shirts do not feature a company logo, employees could theoretically wear them outside of work, so Walmart gets to skip out on the bill for their new policy. Considering that many workers at the low-cost retailer make close to minimum wage, it's simply immoral to make them cover the cost of these new uniforms. Richard Reynoso, a Walmart employee and member of the OUR Walmart campaign, said, "The sad truth is that I do not have $50 laying around the house to spend on new uniform clothes just because Walmart suddenly decided to change its policy." If Walmart demands that workers wear these specific shirts, the company should be paying for them – and they should be paying a living wage as well.

And finally... Our government may have bailed out Wall Street, but Rolling Jubilee is bailing out students. Last week, on the third anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, the Strike Debt group announced that they have abolished nearly four million dollars of student debt. Because the federal government owns the majority of student loans, Rolling Jubilee could only purchase and eliminate private loan debt. However, the group continues to call on the Department of Education to reform student loans and help struggling debtors. Ann Larson, a member of Strike Debt, said, "Being forced into debt for basic social services is a systemic problem, and the only solution is to respond collectively to create a new, equitable economy." In addition to paying off loans for nearly 3,000 people, Rolling Jubilee also announced the launch of The Debt Collective, a new platform for advocacy, organization, and debt resistance. A Debt Collective organizer explained the platform, saying "The Debt Collective will challenge the 1% creditor class by empowering members to renegotiate, resist, and refuse unfair debts while advocating for real solutions including free education and universal health care." No one should be forced to destroy their credit to escape predatory loans and debts, and no one should have to be a life-long slave to their education loans. It's time we demand a national debt jubilee, and Strike Debt is getting that process rolling.

And that's the way it is - for the week of September 22, 2014 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

News Mon, 22 Sep 2014 12:42:03 -0400
Voices From the People's Climate March: Indigenous Groups Lead Historic 400,000-Strong NYC Protest

As many as 400,000 people turned out in New York City on Sunday for the People’s Climate March, the largest environmental protest in history. With a turnout far exceeding expectations, the streets of midtown Manhattan were filled with environmentalists, politicians, musicians, students, farmers, celebrities, nurses and labor activists — all united in their demand for urgent action on climate change. Organizers arranged the People’s Climate March into different contingents reflecting the movement’s diversity, with indigenous groups in the lead. Democracy Now!’s Aaron Maté was in the streets to hear from some of the demonstrators taking part in the historic protest.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the People’s Climate March. Organizers estimate as many as 400,000 people marched in New York Sunday in the largest climate protest in history. The turnout far exceeded expectations. Other marches and rallies were held in 166 countries. More protests are planned for today. Climate activists are gathering today in downtown Manhattan for a mass sit-in dubbed "Flood Wall Street." The actions are timed to coincide with the United Nations climate summit taking place here in New York Tuesday. President Obama and over 100 other world leaders are scheduled to attend.

Sunday’s events in New York began with an indigenous sunrise ceremony in Central Park. Indigenous activists then led the march. Democracy Now!'s Aaron Maté was in the streets at the People's Climate March.

AARON MATÉ: We’re near the very front of the People’s Climate March, and the sign behind me reads: "Front Lines of Crisis, Forefront of Change." This march has been divided up into different groups, and at the front are indigenous and front-line communities most impacted by climate change.

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Hi. My name is Clayton Thomas-Muller. I’m an organizer with the indigenous peoples’ social movement Idle No More and Defenders of the Land. Things today are going really, really well. We’ve got tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people on the street. We have front-line indigenous communities from communities that are disproportionately affected by President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy policy. We’ve got leaders from communities fighting fracking, fighting tar sands, pipelines, all kinds of pipeline fighters from across the continent who are organizing in solidarity with First Nations from the belly of the beast in Alberta who are trying to stop tar sands expansion at the source. And we’re here to send a very clear message to President Obama, Stephen Harper and the rest of the world leaders that we need legally binding mechanisms on climate change right now passed, and if they ain’t going to do it, that the people certainly will.

INDIGENOUS ACTIVIST: Hi. We’re here to march for the next seven generations and to take astand against Big Oil companies that are coming through our territories and trying to take our ancestral lands and destroy them. We’re here because it’s going to take all of us—all of us—not just the indigenous people, but everyone in the whole world, to come together to save our water.

PERUVIAN ACTIVIST: We are from the Peruvian delegation here on the March. And we are marching because we are fighting for climate justice, and we are fighting because this December, the next COP event is going to be in our country. And we are preparing a people’s summit and the next march in December 10 in Lima. And we are asking the Peruvian government, Ollanta Humala, for coherence, because even if they are taking pictures here near Ban Ki-moon, they are not doing that kind of commitments in the country. So, we need to fight here, we need to fight in our country. This is a global fight.



EL PUENTE ACTIVIST: What do we stand for?

EL PUENTE ACTIVISTS: Peace and justice!

FRANCES LUCERNA: My name is Frances Lucerna. I’m the executive director of El Puente. We have about 300-strong here of our young people. We are a human rights organization located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Most of our young people are from Puerto Rico, from Dominican Republic. And the connection between what’s happening in terms of our islands and also what’s happening here in our waterfront community that Williamsburg is part of, we need, really, the powers that be to come together with our people and really make decisions that are about preserving our Earth.

CARLOS GARCIA: Hi. My name is Carlos Garcia. I’m the secretary-treasurer of the New York State Public Employees Federation. We represent 54,000 New York state employees who are professional scientific and technical workers. And we’re out here to say to the U.S. government, New York state government, let’s take care of our climate, let’s take care of our environment.

IRENE JOR: My name is Irene Jor. I’m with the National Domestic Workers Alliance with the New York domestic workers here today. And for us, we’re here because, as domestic workers, it’s time to clean up the climate mess.

DOMESTIC WORKERS: We are domestic workers! We want climate justice now!

IRENE JOR: Domestic workers have been part of the struggle for a long time. We’re disproportionately impacted by climate change. For those of us who are migrant women workers, we often come here because of what extractive resources and climate crisis has done to our home countries.

AARON MATÉ: We’ve come upon a huge contingent of young people, many carrying signs reading "Youth choose climate justice."

YOUTH ACTIVISTS: Obama, we don’t want no climate drama! Hey, Obama, we don’t want no climate drama!

JONAH FELDMAN: My name is Jonah Feldman. I’m here with the Brandeis Divestment Campaign from Brandeis University.

AARON MATÉ: And what does your sign say?

JONAH FELDMAN: It says, "Divest from Climate Change." We believe that our university should sell off all its investments in the fossil fuel industry—that’s in coal, oil, natural gas, tar sands—and to reinvest into clean, renewable alternatives.

LUIS NAVARRO: Hello. My name Luis Navarro. I’m 16. I’m from Boston, Massachusetts. I’m with the Boston-area Youth Organizing Project. Well, as a youth, I feel like every youth should be a part of this, because it concerns them and their future, whether or not if they can live by 20 years from now with this climate change. And I feel like it’s important for me to be here to show them that the youth is on our side.

AARON MATÉ: As we weave through this march that has taken over midtown Manhattan, tens of thousands out in full force, coming across all different sorts of diverse groups.

VEGAN: Number one way to fight climate change: Go vegan.

REV. SUSAN DE GEORGE: I’m Susan De George, and I’m with both Green Faith and with Hudson River Presbytery. We have everybody from Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics, Protestants, atheists, agnostics, all marching in a group.

PROTESTERS: What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!

CAITLIN CALLAHAN: My name is Caitlin Callahan. I’m from Rockaway Beach, and I’m an organizer with Rockaway Wildfire. Superstorm Sandy devastated the Rockaway Peninsula. We know that climate change is being worsened and exacerbated by all of the systemic profiteering that’s happening throughout our world. And it’s time for that to stop. If you haven’t been involved in climate justice activism before, it’s time to get involved in climate justice activism, because this is affecting all of us.

BRADEN ELLIOTT: My name is Braden Elliott. I’m a Ph.D. student at Dartmouth College, and I’m here because I care.

AARON MATÉ: And the banner under which the scientists are marching is "The Debate is Over"?

BRADEN ELLIOTT: Correct. The banner says "The Debate is Over" because the core part, the part that the planet is warming and that humans are responsible for the lion’s share of it, is settled. There’s always debate to be had on the edges of a large topic, but the call to action is very clear.

AARON MATÉ: And now we’re in the bloc of demonstrators under the banner of "We Know Who is Responsible," anti-corporate campaigners, peace and justice groups, those who are organizing against the groups they say are holding back progress.

SANDRA NURSE: My name is Sandra Nurse. I’m here with the Flood Wall Street contingent. We’re calling on people to do a mass sit-in in the financial district to highlight the connections between corporate capitalism, extractive industries, the financing and bankrolling of climate change, the financing of politicians who will not bring meaningful legislation to the table and who are blocking the process of actually bringing meaningful legislation against climate change.

FLOOD WALL STREET CONTINGENT: All day, all week, let’s flood Wall Street!

AMY GOODMAN: Some of the voices from the 400,000-strong People’s Climate March here in New York. Special thanks to Aaron Maté and Elizabeth Press in the streets for Democracy Now!

News Mon, 22 Sep 2014 12:20:53 -0400