Truthout Stories Wed, 27 May 2015 14:07:42 -0400 en-gb Anthropology Apology

"The Green Ninja," a character created by a climate scientist and his team, provides an entertaining and educational way to help children – and everyone else - grasp the intricacies of climate change and learn what they can personally do to become involved in fighting it. See additional details about the series or head straight to this week's episode, "Anthropology Apology: Not Your Average Fossil."

In this episode, two Earthlings from the future are doing some fossil research when they start finding some oddly familiar objects. They aren't really fossils, just things that did not decompose because they needed to be recycled. Since they were left in a landfill, they just sat there for centuries until one day, these two inquisitive characters found them.

The first "fossil" discovered is a cottage cheese container. Like many other refrigerated food-cups, these are usually made of a couple different types of plastic, many of which can be recycled. Since plastic is a heavily-processed, petroleum-based material, it does not easily break down. If you do not recycle your plastic, it can sit in landfills for a couple hundred years!

What's next? Fluorescent lights? Smartphones? Um, yes.

News Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
As Violence Spikes in Baltimore, Former Investigator Says Police Aren't the Answer

See The Real News Network's website for both earlier in-depth reporting and current coverage of events in Baltimore, where The Real News Network studios are located.

Stephen Tabeling: Good investigations and less aggressive tactics could lead to better results.


STEPHEN JANIS, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, TRNN: Hello. My name is Stephen Janis, and I'm an investigative reporter for The Real News Network in Baltimore.

Once again, Baltimore finds itself in the middle of a stretch of unrelenting violence. With 35 murders so far in May, the city is on track to have one of its most deadly months since 1999. And so far homicides are up 40 percent over last year. Along with these killings are calls for police to respond. In fact, the cry for more police, more jails, and more law enforcement has been the mantra of Baltimore for decades. But despite the fact that we have one of the largest police departments, and spending for policing far outweighs schools and recreation centers, there's little evidence that it works. And therein lies the dilemma. Why do we keep turning to police when it doesn't seem to work, and what are we missing about the limits of policing and the criminal justice system in the face of evidence that our solutions may be misguided?

Here to help me answer that question is a man who worked the streets of Baltimore during one of its most violent decades in its history. During the decade of the 1970s, Baltimore experienced roughly 300 murders a year. It was the job of our next guest, Lt. Stephen Tabeling, to solve many of those cases. Since then he has written a book with me, full disclosure, called You Can't Stop Murder. Part of its premise is that this idea that policing can solve complex social problems is flawed and may even be making the situation worse.

Mr. Tabeling, thank you for joining us.


JANIS: Well, explain to us, we're looking at an extremely violent month. And part of the thing people say, we need more police, we need more cops on the street, we need more policing. But you say that's not the only part of this problem, and you have the premise that you can't stop murder. What did you mean by that?

TABELING: Well, I don't think you need more police. You need more experienced people. You need to have people that know what they're doing when they're investigating, and you can't use committees to investigate crimes. You have to have experienced investigators. And I go back to my time. Investigators used to go out on crime scenes by themselves. And then if it come time for an arrest, then we would call uniformed officers.

When I was there, we had 28 men in homicide and we had over 300 murders a year. I could send any one of those investigators out and feel comfortable that he was going to do the right job. So it never took more than two on a crime scene to come up with a solution to a crime.

JANIS: One of the premises is that in modern policing, in contemporary policing, you can prevent murders. But you say that's kind of a flawed philosophy or flawed idea. What do you mean by that, you can't stop murder?

TABELING: You can't stop murder. In our book we said that. Murder is a crime of passion. You're not going to stop it. But can you do some things that can help to prevent it, absolutely. When you have good investigations and are swift, and people are convicted.

And one of the things that bothers me is stop and frisk. That's one of the greatest tools police every got, and I don't think they're properly trained. And if you look at New York, murders went down, what, 60 percent when they were using stop and frisk because people that carried guns knew that the possibility of them getting stopped was going to be there. So when they stopped talking to people and stopping people, they didn't care about carrying weapons.

JANIS: But the city of Baltimore arrested 100,000 people a year. 100,000 people a year. And the homicide rate went up. So how can stop and frisk or any of these policies in policing really prevent murders or really stop--.

TABELING: Let's take a look at the 100,000 people they arrested. What were they charged with? Did they get any weapons, they were corner arrests, they were disorderly conducts. They were people on the porch drinking beer. It was the broken windows syndrome, low tolerance. Most of those people, they probably shouldn't have been arrested. They weren't quality arrests. They were numbers.

See, so when you start getting into the areas where there's a lot of crime, where there's a lot of weapons, you have to have a way to get those weapons off of the street. And one of the best ways--look, the case Terry v. Ohio came out from the Supreme Court in an eight to one decision. And the Supreme Court said if a police officer knows a person is violent in a neighborhood of high activity, and that officer has articulable reasonable suspicion to suspect that person is armed he has the right to detain and pat the person down. But the problem is you have to be properly trained, and you have to know when and how and to evaluate when to stop people.

And then when you go to court you have to be able to testify from your training and your experience exactly why you did what you did.

JANIS: But even in the case of New York, with stop and frisk, it was determined that it was racially biased. And similarly with zero tolerance, they're both accused of being racially biased. So how can you say they're effective if they're not being administered justly?

TABELING: Let's take a look at racially biased. I work in a western district. I'm a white police officer. It's a predominantly black neighborhood. There's a lot of killings in that neighborhood, there's a lot of robberies. Who am I going to be stopping? What am I going to be looking for? It's the same if you take a black officer and send him to East Baltimore, and he's going to be doing the same kind of operation. Who's he going to be stopping?

And really, don't you think whatever neighborhoods you go in, you're doing these things to protect the people who live in these neighborhoods. That's my whole thing about that.

JANIS: Well, let me ask you another--there was a story in the Sun over the weekend about how the union's contract had prevented the improvements in policing. How many people did you have in homicide when there were 300 murders a year compared to today? You had very few, much--.

TABELING: Twenty-eight.

JANIS: Twenty-eight people.


JANIS: So how is it possible that we have 60 or 70, and we have a lower closure rate today than we had 30, 40 years ago?

TABELING: A lot of reasons. Lack of experience. We've lost the technique of interrogation. Of, we have officers with no imagination. You've got to have an imagination, you've got to think things through. You just have to have a way of, I'm going to say profile, but not profile on a person. Profile in crimes and crime scenes, and that can give you an idea who committed a crime.

We don't have the street smart people that we used to have. Let's get foot patrol back in there. I can remember the days when I was working in Homicide. If I had a nickname of a guy, got the post officer, he'd pull a book out of his pocket. He'd say oh yeah, this is where he live--they don't do that now. They've got no responsibility for anything on the streets.

Listen, your backbone is your uniformed police officers. And who's the least trained? The patrol officer out on the street. What he does can go all the way to the United States Supreme Court and it can break your case. And I'll guarantee you if you talk to the State's Attorney they'll tell you that they're hesitant about putting the first officer on the scene on the witness stand.

JANIS: I mean, in the age of technology when this should be easier, we have a larger police department with more investigators, and you can't achieve a closure rate. I mean, is the union, is the problem that there's not enough accountability with police in the sense that they have too much power, maybe?

TABELING: I'm going to go back, again. It's a lack of training, it's a lack of experience, and I gave you this example before and it's in the book. When I was in a police academy just three or four years ago, we had a program that was first ever in the history of law schools where we actually did trials at the University of Baltimore with judges and attorneys. First time in the history of law school. And the judges on circuit court said this is the best program they've ever seen. And the State's Attorney said we are not afraid to put the first officer on the scene because they know how to testify. I left the academy and they stopped doing it.

JANIS: Well, that raises a big question. Why would they stop training officers to be able to testify in court, and why would they stop teaching the law in general?

TABELING: It's a lot of work. It's a lack of experience. When I did that training--.

JANIS: Well, just stop you there. You say it's a lot of work. What do you mean, it's a lot of work?

TABELING: Well first of all, I bring a class of 50 people in and I'd have to write scenarios on burglaries, armed robberies, and all kind of problems and split the class up in groups of four. Talk to them every morning. You have to write a report. You have to interview a witness. You have to interrogate a suspect. You have to write a search and seizure warrant. And I had to, I'd say spoon feed them. Because I'd take--I'd come to work every morning at 6:00. And I'd get these groups in there. And then when they got their folders right, then we would go to a State's Attorney, and the State's Attorney would go over it.

I have tapes of all this. I have tapes of what happened up at the University of Baltimore. One of the most important things is, Steve, anybody can make an arrest, but anybody can't carry that case through to convict some body in a court of law. And that's where a lot of it's lacking.

JANIS: But you're talking about an entirely different type of policing. I mean, what's taught in the academy recently, or at least the past seven or eight years is more aggressive, physical training. What's been taught, what we saw with the Freddie Gray case was people chasing people around the neighborhood without too much--without probable cause. Why has policing changed so much in the past 40 years? What has changed it?

TABELING: Well, nobody listen, but I'll keep on saying it. It's a lack of legal training and understanding the 4th, 5th, and 6th amendments to the Constitution. It's a lack of being able to go out on that street and when you make an arrest, evaluate what you're doing. You go out there and it happens how, that's it. Make a decision, just like that. And if you don't have something up here to do it, it's going to be very difficult.

JANIS: Okay. Now, we're looking at this situation, 35 murders this month so far. You're police commissioner, you're working the Baltimore City Police Department. How do you respond to that?

TABELING: Well first of all, I'm going to look at who's in my homicide squad and I'm going to look at my commanders. And I don't micromanage my people. Every time I look at a homicide scene I see majors and colonels and everybody else out on the street. You can't micromanage. That shows me that they don't have any trust in their investigators, and I doubt if any of those commanders know how to do a homicide.

So you can't put people in that position that you're looking over their shoulder all--you're practically telling these guys, you don't know what you're doing. So take a look around. In this department, we have sergeants with three and four years' service. We have lieutenants with seven and eight year. And I think majors don't have too much more time.

JANIS: So what did it used to be?

TABELING: It used to be when I made sergeants, you had to be a patrolman for five years. And if you made sergeant in seven or eight years you were doing a good thing. Once you made lieutenant you had to wait two years to take the test. You never made it in two years because we had a seniority system.

I hear from a lot of the people I taught in the academy, will tell me that they'll go to a lieutenant or a sergeant in the street and they can't get an answer. That's bad, that's your middle--that's your people out on the street. You have to be able to answer questions for people.

JANIS: Is that politics? I mean, what...

TABELING: Listen. In this city of Baltimore, we've had I don't know how many police commissioners that come from out of town, and they try to make us their department. This is a unique city, and it's been told a lot, this is a city of villages. It's a different understanding.

Here's what you have to do. If I was police commissioner, people would be out of those cars. There'd be foot patrol. I don't care, it costs a lot of money, but that's what I would do. Because that's one of the things that keeps crime down, is having cops on foot out there.

JANIS: One of the things people have been saying is because of the Freddie Gray incident police have been slowing down. But they're public servants. And do you believe, number one, that they are slowing down, and do you believe that's justified?

TABELING: Well, I don't--listen, I'm one guy. I don't believe it's justified, but let's look at it both ways. If I'm a police officer, and say I make a mistake on a probable cause issue and the case goes to court. The judge does what? He dismisses the guy. In a situation like we have now, say those officers made a mistake, they got charged. And you've got police officers out there now saying wait a minute. If I put my hands on this guy and I make a mistake, I'm afraid I'm going to jail.

JANIS: But even though they're committing a crime, shouldn't everyone be subject to the same type of law that you talk about?

TABELING: Everybody should, and everybody should be doing their job. And listen, I guarantee you 98 or 99 percent of the police out there are good cops. You've got that one or two percent to drag us all down.

Listen, you know that I've locked up policemen. I'm not proud of it. And I know what they are, and I also know that the good men don't get treated right.

JANIS: But why don't the good people speak up more? If they're good. I mean, this assumption, we say everyone's good, there's only a few bad. Why don't they speak up? Why don't they--because, why don't they prevent this?

TABELING: Because they're afraid they're going to lose their job. Because they're afraid they don't have any backing. They're afraid the police commissioner and the mayor won't back them up. You make a mistake when you make an arrest, a police officer shouldn't get arrested. If he makes a mistake and it goes to court and the judge dismisses it, that's the way to--now, if--.

JANIS: But what if someone dies as a result? Like Freddie--.

TABELING: You've got a whole other set of circumstances. You're asking me now why the cops don't want to--.

JANIS: Right, I understand.

TABELING: So the cops don't want to do anything because they're afraid if they make a mistake then they're going to get charged. And when you're out there on those streets, believe me, you never know what you're going to run into. Every call is different and you've got to be on your toes all the time.

Now, these cops now all over the United States, they're a little bit jittery now. And another policeman got shot in Mississippi, another policeman got shot in Louisiana, another police officer got shot in New Mexico, and another one got beat up. So it's going all over the country, and these guys are, these guys are getting a little bit upset.

JANIS: I'm sorry, I'm interrupting. Go ahead. But ultimately, you know, the law--I guess your idea was that the law is the best thing we have in terms of--yeah.

TABELING: Absolutely. The thing that I see is, you're bringing people in to become police officers. Before they come in, or truck drivers, or mailmen, they might be a lot of things. I've had accountants and everything else come in. they know absolutely nothing about the law, and they're going to be the people out on the street. You have to give them something to take out there with them so that they can make decisions.

You've got a program in college called a criminal justice degree. I've had people in my class in the police academy that when I was giving them instruction they'd say, why don't they give us this in college? It seems to me, just my own opinion, that the last thing they think of, the last thing they think of, is the law. Look at that $250,000 survey that they did for the Baltimore Police Department. How many sentences in that survey talks about training? Not many. Maybe it's a paragraph or something.

I just, it's just me, I've been around with this since 1954. And as a private investigator I've been back and see what policemen do on the kind of investigations that they do. And then you go back and say, supervision. Supervision, and the supervisors aren't properly trained.

So I put something on the internet. I said I'd like to have the opportunity to bring all the command staff in and give them a test.

JANIS: Well, [inaud.] Stephen, we really appreciate you coming. Thanks for coming in and talking about policing with me, I appreciate it.

TABELING: You're welcome.

JANIS: My name is Stephen Janis, I'm an investigative reporter for The Real News Network reporting from Baltimore. Thank you.

News Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Ireland's Social Revolution: Traditionally Catholic Nation Makes History With Marriage Equality Vote

In a historic victory for marriage equality, Ireland has become the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage via popular vote. By a 62-to-38 margin, the people of Ireland voted a resounding "yes" for equality in a national referendum on Friday. This signals what some are calling a "social revolution" in the traditionally conservative Catholic country. Ireland’s constitution will now be amended to say that two people can marry "without distinction as to their sex." The turnout was one of the highest in the country’s history and came after a robust civic campaign led by human rights activists, trade unions, celebrities and employers. Ireland’s referendum reflects a sea change in a country where homosexuality was decriminalized just two decades ago and where 70 percent of the population still identifies as Roman Catholic. We are joined from Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Gavin Boyd, the policy and advocacy manager at The Rainbow Project.


AARON MATÉ: In a historic victory for marriage equality, Ireland has become the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage via popular vote. By a 62-to-38 margin, the people of Ireland voted a resounding "yes" for equality in a national referendum on Friday. This signals what some are calling a "social revolution" in the traditionally conservative Catholic country. Jubilant supporters crowded into the courtyard of Dublin Castle to watch as results trickled in from across the country. As the final tally was announced, they cheered with joy and sang the national anthem. This is "yes" voter Bear North.

BEAR NORTH: We now live in a different country that includes everybody. You know, homosexuality was only legalized in 1993. We’ve come such a long way, and now we’re proud to stand up to the world and say we’re a wonderful country.

AARON MATÉ: Ireland’s constitution will now be amended to say two people can marry, quote, "without distinction as to their sex." The turnout was one of the highest in the country’s history and came after a robust civic campaign led by activists, trade unions, celebrities and employers. It was also endorsed by all of Ireland’s political parties. On Saturday, Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny praised the outcome.

PRIME MINISTER ENDA KENNY: With today’s vote, we have disclosed who we are: a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people. Yes to inclusion, yes to generosity, yes to love, yes to equal marriage.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. Ireland’s referendum reflects a sea change in a country where homosexuality was decriminalized just two decades ago, in 1993, and where 70 percent of the population still identifies as Roman Catholic. Many have suggested a series of clerical pedophile scandals have weakened the church’s moral authority on social issues. Ireland now joins 18 other nations that have ended marriage exclusion, including Britain, France and Spain, as well as South Africa, Brazil and Canada. Now, in western Europe, Northern Ireland remains the last country where same-sex couples are barred from tying the knot. Next month, activists will hold a rally in support of marriage equality there. So far, legislative attempts have been vetoed in the Northern Ireland Assembly by the Democratic Unionist Party and a majority of Ulster Unionists.

For more, we go to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where we’re joined by Gavin Boyd, the policy and advocacy manager at The Rainbow Project.

Gavin, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you take us through how this happened?

GAVIN BOYD: Well, [inaudible]. This was a long campaign. This was about a social change that’s been happening in Ireland over the past 15 to 20 years. I think all credit has to go to the yes campaigners in getting this over the line. It really helps that there was a real consensus of support for the issue across all the political leaders in the republic. And I think it also helped that the Catholic Church, sensing the way that this was going, kept their heads pretty much close to the ground on this issue. I think that stopped it from becoming a very divisive issue in the republic.

AARON MATÉ: Gavin, what do you think accounts for that approach by the church, not taking a divisive "no" stance?

GAVIN BOYD: Well, I think the Catholic Church has been battered in Ireland over the past 20 years because of the abuses that took place for women who were housed in Magdalene laundries, for the child sex scandals that have come out from the church over the past 20 years. I think the church recognized that many people were not going to be taking lessons from them on what constitutes decency or dignity in society. So, I think they read the cards well in how to react to the public on that. But I think what really swung this in the end were those conversations that people were having in small townlands and villages in really rural Ireland. I think that’s really what swung it, because this wasn’t a victory for the metropolitan elite, this was a victory right the way across Ireland, not just in big cities, but in tiny little villages, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Gavin, if you could explain the novel approach to organizing, or, I should say, the extremely comprehensive approach. I want to turn to a campaign video produced by the group Vote With Us that went viral.

BRIGHID WHYTE: Hello, I’m Brighid.

PADDY WHYTE: And I’m Paddy. We are voting for equal marriage. We hope you will vote with us.

BRIGHID WHYTE: We’re from Dundalk, we’re Roman Catholics, and we will be 50 years married this year. We wish other couples, gay or straight, could legally avail of civil marriage and have the opportunity to experience the love, protections and companionship that we have experienced.

PADDY WHYTE: Twenty years ago, I probably would have voted no. But now that I know gay people and see the love and joy they can bring to life, and I will be voting yes. We worked hard for civil rights in Northern Ireland in the ’60s. Now it is time to support civil rights in the South.

BRIGHID WHYTE: We’re grandparents, and we wish that all our grandchildren are protected and treated as equals, in the playground and in the eyes of the law.

PADDY WHYTE: I’d ask you to take time to consider and reflect on something. It could happen sometime in the future that your son or daughter, grandchild or great-grandchild will tell you they are gay. And when they ask you how you voted in this referendum, or whether you bothered to vote at all, what will you tell them? Will you tell them you tried to make a difference?

BRIGHID WHYTE: We have the opportunity to change things for the better. I know the ever-loving god that we believe in will say we did the right thing and the Christian thing in voting yes for marriage equality.

PADDY WHYTE: We ask you to vote with us.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Brighid and Paddy Whyte from Dundalk, Ireland, in a video produced by the Vote With Us campaign. And so, if you could explain, Gavin, how the grassroots organizing was accomplished, both online, offline, house to house, and all the different groups that got involved? All of the parties supported this, the political parties.

GAVIN BOYD: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this really was a mammoth campaign that was undertaken by "yes" campaigners. I think that video shows that it was very much an Irish solution to this issue. This was really about talking to families, talking to parents, talking to grandparents, and explaining to them why it was important for their children, for their grandchildren to be able to grow up in a society that respected them as equal citizens. I think those conversations that people had with their older family members, who are maybe traditionally disinclined from supporting LGBT issues or supporting marriage equality, once they saw how important it was for their children, for their grandchildren, they understood why they had to go out and vote yes for it.

I mean, online, as well, there was a massive campaign on getting the Irish diaspora, the immigrants who have left Ireland, to come home specifically to vote for this issue. And watching the tweets come in on Friday afternoon and the pictures and the videos of people coming in by plane and by ferry from the United States, from India, from Africa, from Australia, people came from all the way around the world to come home to vote on this particular issue. And I think that shows why it was such a strong grassroots campaign, because this was an issue that has electrified the youth of Ireland over the past number of years, especially those young people who have maybe gone to work in other more traditionally progressive parts of the world, and they come home and they realize that the changes that they see in other parts of the world are changes that they want to bring to Ireland, as well.

I think that it was a real—and it was the true essence of a grassroots campaign. This was not fought on TV with attack ads and all the [inaudible]. This was conversations that were happening in pubs in rural Ireland and at Gaelic football matches. So, it really was a victory for the populace as opposed to the elites.

AARON MATÉ: And, Gavin, you mentioned people coming in from around the world. What about the ripple effect globally? Do you see this influencing similar votes in other countries across the planet?

GAVIN BOYD: I would like to think so. I know that Eamon Gilmore, who really was the spearhead of the political side of the equal marriage campaign, has said that Ireland should now be a leader on LGBT rights around the world. And I think that’s probably true. I think that Ireland being a traditionally conservative, traditionally Catholic country, that is able to make this change through popular vote, I think it is an example for those parts of the world, particularly places in Latin America, particularly other places maybe in eastern Europe, certainly in Australia. I would see this having a massive ripple effect across the world.

AMY GOODMAN: On Friday, former Irish government minister Pat Carey announced he is gay, and appealed to older voters to support same-sex marriage. He said he was encouraged to speak publicly after the health minister, Leo Varadkar, became the country’s first openly gay minister last month. Carey congratulated his compatriots for embracing marriage equality and said Ireland has progressed greatly in the last few decades.

PAT CAREY: I feel elated. I mean, I think it’s a brave statement by the Irish people that they have voted, in great numbers, to extend equality to gay and lesbian people, to allow them to get married civilly in a registry office. Ireland, 10, 20 years ago, was a strange, dark place where an awful lot of stones were being overturned and lots of nasty insects were being found under them. We decriminalized homosexuality in Ireland only in 1993. Ten years earlier, it was still OK for a man to rape his wife.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s former Irish government minister Pat Carey. If you could talk about those—the politicians who actually came out as they pushed people to support same-sex marriage?

GAVIN BOYD: Sure. I think—I mean, the political parties did play a really strong role in this. And the fact that there was such a strong consensus among the parties, I think, really helped solidify the sense that this was an achievable thing in Ireland. Obviously, the left-wing parties were straight-out in favor of it very strongly—Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, the Greens. They were all very much in favor of the change and of campaigning for the change. But I think the really significant change happened when the more mainstream parties got involved, when Fianna Fáil, the traditional party of government in Ireland, and Fine Gael, Enda Kenny’s political party, came on board with this. This really showed that this was not a left or right issue, this was not a liberal or conservative issue, but this was an Irish issue. This was about ensuring that all citizens of Ireland have access to the same civil rights as everyone else. And I think particularly Enda Kenny’s interventions were helpful, because Enda Kenny is an old-school Irish politician. He’s a devout Catholic. He’s from a rural community in the west coast of Ireland. And showing that someone from that totally non-Dublin, non-metropolitan background can get behind this issue, I think, really helped sway some of those more older, more conservative, more rural voters.

AARON MATÉ: And, Gavin, can you talk about Pope Francis? He certainly had a more inclusive stance than previous pontiffs. Can you talk about the position he has taken and how that might have influenced this outcome?

GAVIN BOYD: I think Pope Francis has probably taken quite a smart response on this. He’s certainly an intelligent man. He knows what way the wind is blowing on this issue. And he is loathe to, I think, put the Catholic Church at odds with so many of their Catholic congregants around the world. Remember, Ireland, although it has been rocked by controversies with the Catholic Church, is still a heavily mass-going country. People still regularly attend church. And I think that the church was wise, and Pope Francis particularly wise, in not seeking to not overtly antagonize members of his flock, I think, particularly understanding how young people feel about this. And remember, in Ireland, most young people go through 12 or 14 years of Catholic education, and after that, they still support marriage equality. So really this was about taking the skills that Irish Catholic children were taught in school and applying them to the civil politics around them. I think Pope Francis, if he is as intelligent as I believe, will look at the result coming from Ireland, will take, as the archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said, a reality check, and recognize that the church needs to strongly consider how it articulates its views on these issues and how it can make itself more relevant to young people in Ireland and across the world today.

AMY GOODMAN: Gavin Boyd, finally, you are speaking to us from Belfast, from Northern Ireland. Talk about the position of Northern Ireland today and what you’re doing there.

GAVIN BOYD: Sure. Well, Northern Ireland is, I suppose, in quite a similar situation to some states in the U.S. at the minute, in that in other parts of the U.K. people can get lawfully married, but when they come home to Northern Ireland, they’re no longer recognized as married. They have their relationship reclassified against their will. That is what we consider an ongoing injustice, something that we think will probably be challenged in the courts at some point in the future. But really, at the minute, in Northern Ireland, there isn’t a legislative solution to marriage inequality here. The Democratic Unionist Party, the Ulster Unionist Party are very strongly against marriage equality. The DUP have successfully vetoed its introduction four times now in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and there’s every likelihood that they will continue to use their veto to block its implementation.

So, understanding the wave of support that there is for marriage equality across Ireland now, The Rainbow Project, that I work for, with our partners in Amnesty International and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions are organizing a rally and a march for marriage equality in Belfast on the 13th of June, really to make it clear to our politicians and those politicians in the DUP that they do not speak for all of us on this issue, that we understand that this is an issue of fundamental human rights and for equal treatment under the law, and that we cannot allow a position where people are lawfully married, but when they come home to Belfast or Derry or Newry, where they live, that they’re no longer considered married anymore. That’s a complete injustice, which really does need a resolution.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Gavin Boyd, for joining us, policy and advocacy manager at The Rainbow Project, speaking to us from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Dublin’s Catholic Archbishop Martin said last year, "Anybody who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic," he said, "they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people." This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to another Catholic country, but we go south to El Salvador, where this weekend 300,000 people turned out for the beatification of the slain archbishop of El Salvador, Archbishop Romero. Stay with us.

News Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: A State of Emergency Has Been Declared in California Following Oil Spill, and More

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In today's On the News segment: A state of emergency has been declared in California after crews realized that the Refugio Beach oil spill was five times worse than original estimates; tiny bubbles may give scientists their best look yet at our planet's ancient climate; Wyoming passed an unconstitutional law making it a crime to "collect resource data" from any "open land"; and more.

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


Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest of ... Science and Green news ...

You need to know this. A state of emergency has been declared in California after crews realized that the Refugio Beach oil spill was five times worse than original estimates. Last week, the Plains All American Pipeline ruptured and dumped crude oil over a four-mile stretch of pristine California coastline. Original estimates put that spill at around 21,000 gallons, but new calculations indicate that the real figure is well over 100,000 gallons. Crews continue to work furiously to remove contaminated sand and rescue oil-soaked wildlife, and the governor's office has closed the beaches surrounding that spill and put a ban on fishing. Once again, our nation is watching the spill and clean up unfold. And once again, we learn that the company responsible has a long history of violating regulations and causing disasters. According to a report over at Common Dreams, Plains All American has been responsible for 175 different spills since 2006, yet somehow they're still allowed to do business in our great nation. The oceans program director for the Center for Biological Diversity said, "This company's disturbing record highlights oil production's toxic threat to California's coast. Every new oil project increases the risk of fouled beaches and oil-soaked sea life." Over and over and over, oil and gas companies prove that they cannot be trusted to protect the public safety, and that there is no such thing as safe drilling or transport of this toxic sludge. Today, the victims of this tragedy are California wildlife and residents, but tomorrow, who knows which of us could find ourselves dealing with the same fate. We have the technology to make the transition away from dirty energy, but we have to stand up to the oil and gas companies that refuse to let go of their profits. The success of a corporation should never trump the safety of our people and our planet, and it shouldn't take another oil spill to make us recognize these risks. Hopefully, the California coast line will bounce back quickly from this disaster. And hopefully, We, The People will decide that it will be the last.

Tiny bubbles may give scientists their best look yet at our planet's ancient climate. According to a recent study from Princeton University, gas bubbles in Antarctic blue ice still contain the carbon dioxide and other gasses that were trapped inside them one million years ago. The study's lead author, geochemist John Higgins, said, "Gas bubbles are the gold standard for reconstructing climate." By analyzing carbon dioxide levels and glaciers from ancient Earth, scientists have been able to determine how greenhouse gas levels altered our planet's ice-age cycles. They also hope to find older ice, which could help them learn more about the climate as far back as 2.5 million years ago. In an interview with Live Science, Mr. Higgins explained, "We're seeing a very strong correlation between carbon dioxide and glacial cycles that extends back a million years." And, for our friends and family members who insist that they aren't scientists, that means that we have proof that high levels of carbon dioxide have a huge impact on our environment. We only have one planet to call home, so let's start listening to the actual scientists who are telling us that we need to protect it.

You may want to think twice about sharing photos from your next family vacation. If you take a trip to Yellowstone, you could find yourself behind bars for posting that picture. Earlier this year, Wyoming passed a law making it a crime to "collect resource data" from any "open land." If you're confused by that ambiguous description, you're not alone. That law has such broad definitions for terms like "collect" and "data" that it includes taking a picture of a environmental disaster to share with state or federal agencies. In other words, if you happen to see an oil spill or chemical leak in Wyoming, please just keep it to yourself. Obviously, this law will likely be challenged as unconstitutional, due to violations of our First Amendment guarantee of free speech and the right to petition our government. Wyoming can try all they want to prevent citizens from monitoring our environment, but this pathetic attempt to pander to corporate polluters is likely to be struck down.

Starbucks will stop bottling water in drought-stricken California. An investigation last month by Mother Jones magazine exposed that company's bottled-water brand "Ethos" for pumping groundwater out of an area that has been under a drought emergency since 2012. And in response, Starbucks agreed to move that bottling company out of the state to a new facility in Pennsylvania. Considering that water company was created "to help fix the global water crisis," it's past time for them to stop contributing to the drought problem in California. John Kelly, the senior vice president of global responsibility at Starbucks, said, "We are committed to our mission to be a globally responsible company and to support the people of the state of California as they face this unprecedented drought." Although they were late fixing the problem, it's great news that the company is putting their money where their mouth is and moving out of that drought-stricken state.

And finally... People with gut disorders may benefit from meditation. According to a recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE, stress-relieving activities like yoga and meditation can suppress the genes responsible for causing inflammation. And, because many gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease are caused by inflammation, patients can experience real benefits from relaxation techniques. These conditions are very common in the United States, where stress and poor diets are all too common. One of the study's lead researchers, Dr. Towia Libermann of Harvard Medical School, said, "In both IBS and IBD, the pathway controlled by a protein called NF-kB emerged as one of those most significantly affected by the relaxation response." In other words, finding time to relax could be beneficial to people who suffer from these disorders. Much of our immune system and other functions are closely related to our digestive system, so meditation and yoga can be helpful to us all. Regardless of whether we have stomach issues or not, we can all benefit from a little down time.

And that's the way it is for the week of May 25, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science & Green News.

News Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Pressure Mounts to Shut Down Immigrant Family Detention Centers

In recent weeks, immigrant rights advocates have increased pressure on the Obama administration to end its punitive policy of holding in prison-like conditions mothers and children fleeing danger and poverty in their home countries — and the issue is gaining ground.

Earlier this month, several Texas-based immigrant rights groups organized a rally that drew hundreds of people from across Texas and the nation demanding the closure of the South Texas Family Residential Center, a privately-run family detention center in Dilley that's the largest in the country. Following the Mother's Day holiday, immigrant rights advocates and mothers held in detention sent letters to President Obama calling on his administration to end family detention. And the New York Times published an editorial last week condemning the practice of immigrant detention, especially that of mothers and children seeking asylum.

The issue is also getting a boost in visibility from Democratic leaders. On Thursday, 11 House Democrats led by Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard and Zoe Lofgren of California and Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois held a press conference to discuss the devastating effects of detention on children and call for alternatives. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also added her voice to the chorus of criticism earlier this month at a roundtable discussion in Nevada: "I don't think we should put children and vulnerable people into big detention facilities because I think they're at risk," she said. "I think that their physical and mental health are at risk."

In another promising development for the movement against family detention, a district court judge in California issued a tentative ruling last month that children and their mothers cannot be held in unlicensed facilities like the existing family detention centers. The ruling prompted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to announce new measures that it says will "enhance oversight and accountability." The two sides have until May 24 to reach an agreement.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is pushing forward with expanding immigrant family detention facilities — most of which are managed by private prison companies.

Just opened in December, the facility in Dilley, Texas, currently houses nearly 800 children and mothers but is expected to expand to 2,400 beds by the end of May, making the 50-acre facility the country's largest family detention center. The center is privately managed by the Corrections Corporation of America, the same company that ran the troubled T. Don Hutto center in Texas where family detention was ended in 2009 due to abuses and poor conditions. Another family detention facility in Karnes City, Texas, is planning to double its 600-bed capacity; that facility is privately managed by the GEO Group. A third, government-run center in Berks County, Pennsylvania, is also expected to expand.

ICE recently allowed representatives from nonprofits and immigrant rights organizations to tour the Dilley facility. They described it as a complex of beige trailers (which ICE refers to as "suites") that look like barracks inside with six bunk beds each. A census of the detainees is conducted three times a day starting at 5:30 a.m., and guards called "resident supervisors" can go into the trailers at any time during the night to check on occupants.

Carl Takei, a staff attorney at the ACLU, was among those who toured the Dilley facility. He described it as a modern-day version of internment camps where Japanese Americans were detained during World War II.

"By rendering parents as helpless as their children, the camps both undermined family structures and created a constant undercurrent of anxiety," he wrote about conditions in the internment camps in a piece for The Marshall Project. "Today, immigration authorities under President Obama's direction are needlessly inflicting the same trauma on families that arrived in the United States seeking protection."

News Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Obama Administration Sabotages Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference

So much for President Obama's commitment to a nuclear-weapons-free world. The Obama administration recently blocked the adoption of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference's consensus statement, shielding Israel and its nuclear weapons from the proposed Middle East nuclear-weapons-free zone. The US move also gave the world another hefty push toward the potential for nuclear catastrophe.

President Barack Obama, listening to questions during a news conference following a meeting with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, at Camp David, Md., May 14, 2015. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)President Barack Obama, listening to questions during a news conference following a meeting with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, at Camp David, Maryland, May 14, 2015. (Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times)The support of readers like you got this story published - and helps Truthout stay free from corporate advertising. Can you sustain our work with a tax-deductible donation today?

I mean you must take living so seriously that,
even when you are seventy, you must plant olive trees,
not because you think they will be left to your children,
because you don't believe in death although you are afraid of it
because, I mean, life weighs heavier.
- Nazim Hikmet, "On Living"

So much for President Obama's commitment to a nuclear-weapons-free world.

With its decision on May 22 to block the adoption of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference's consensus statement, the Obama administration gave the human species another hefty push toward nuclear catastrophe, shaking the foundations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Why the sabotage? Well, for one thing, the draft text had the temerity to call for the convening of a conference within six months to prepare the way for a Middle East nuclear-weapons-and-weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone. It called for all parties to the NPT Review - read especially the United States - to fulfill previous Review Conferences' promises to begin the process of creating the zone.


Though it doesn't currently garner much media coverage, the danger of nuclear war is anything but an innocuous abstraction. Each of the nuclear powers is currently modernizing its nuclear arsenal and delivery systems. (US plans call for spending $1 trillion over the next 30 years for these nuclear weapons.) With NATO's expansion to Russia's borders, and Russia's responses in Ukraine and across Europe, we have entered a new era of confrontation between nuclear superpowers, which between them possess more than 90 percent of the world's 16,400 nuclear weapons - weapons that have been exercised in posturing during the Ukraine war.

The situation isn't much better in Asia and the Pacific. China's second-leading official newspaper, Global Times, said in a May 25 editorial that "war was inevitable" between China and the United States unless Washington stopped demanding that Beijing halt the building of artificial islands in a disputed waterway (the South China/Western Philippine Sea). Those islands may be designed to host naval bases for China's nuclear-armed submarines, in order to overcome the possibility of the US and Japan blockading China's mainland ports. Plus, at a time when the US is deepening its military alliances and deploying first-strike-related "missile defenses" along China's periphery, China has begun installing multiple warheads on its nuclear missiles.

Further afield, recent scientific studies tell us that even a "small" nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan could lead to global famine and the deaths of 2 billion people. We must also take into account the staggering record of nuclear weapons accidents and miscalculations - and what that record portends for our future on this planet.

Given these global tensions, along with the nuclear powers' resistance to engaging in "good faith" negotiations for the complete elimination of the P5's (1) nuclear arsenals as required by Article VI of the 45-year-old Nonproliferation Treaty, hopes for this year's NPT Review Conference were not high. The nuclear powers had boycotted the United Nations' Open Ended Working Group, failed to fulfill more than 1.5 of the 13 steps agreed at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, and the US had insulted the majority of the world's nations during the UN High Level Meeting on Disarmament when it warned them to leave fulfillment of the 64 action items to Washington. In addition, Moscow sneeringly boasted that under China's leadership they were nearing completion of a glossary of terms.

Worse, the near-complete failure of this year's Review Conference further undermines the credibility of the seminal treaty, leaving the world without even a minimal agreement about how to reduce, let along eliminate, the risk of nuclear annihilation.

In the months leading to the Review Conference, many diplomats and analysts feared that the failure of the United States to co-convene the Middle East Nuclear Weapons and Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone conference in 2012 could lead to the failure of the Review Conference and the dangers that could follow. Efforts to create the zone, which would include Iran, Israel and the Arab states, date to the deal that indefinitely extended the NPT in 1995 - and which was reiterated in the 2000 and 2010 Review Conferences. The US failure to bring Israel to the table led a growing number of the world's nations to question whether US commitments are worth the paper they are written on, with the UN high representative for disarmament affairs wondering who could have reasonably expected the US to deliver Israel in a presidential election year.

Unfortunately, the critics were right. The US could not be taken at its diplomatic word. And in her speech in the closing session of the Review Conference, Rose Gottemoeller asserted that previous commitments to convene the Middle East zone conference had now expired.

Just as the US has repeatedly run interference for Israel as it disregards the UN Security Council resolutions that ended the 1967 war and persists with its illegal colonization, our government once again "had Israel's back" in that country's campaign to remain the Middle East's sole nuclear power. Rather than accept its military ally Egypt's demand that the Middle East nuclear weapons and WMD conference be held within 180 days of the Review Conference, the US scuttled that conference.


The contradictions are, of course, rife. The US warns that "all options are on the table" in relation to Iran's nuclear "threat" - a position recently reiterated by President Obama in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg for The Atlantic - while protecting Israel's nuclear arsenal. A Middle East nuclear-weapons-and-WMD-free zone would remove any threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon, yet there is growing talk in the Arab world about a need to "match" Iran's civilian nuclear program. We must also recognize that if Israel lives in a "dangerous neighborhood," as its leaders have frequently claimed, so do Iran and the Arab states.

One doesn't have to endorse Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's dictatorship to agree with the Egyptian ambassador's statement in the closing session of the Review Conference that, "By blocking consensus, we are depriving the world, but especially the Middle East, of even one chance of a better future, away from the horrors and the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons."

Functionally, in blocking the final document, the US also may have been doing heavy diplomatic lifting for Russia, China, France and Britain, each of which opposed many of the specifics in the draft consensus statement. If the US hadn't blocked the statement to protect Israel, might others P5 nations or their allies have prevented consensus? That's unknown, but there is no doubt that as the head of Russia's delegation put it, it was a "shame that such an opportunity for dialogue had turned out to be missed, perhaps for a long time to come." I put those words in italics to emphasize just how significant the failure of the Review Conference is. Much - including nuclear war - can happen in a "long time."

Silver Linings?

As the saying goes, it is darkest before the dawn. Of necessity, we look for silver linings that illuminate life-affirming paths.

The first of these sources of hope is the growing divide between the vast majority of non-nuclear weapons states and the nuclear powers. By the time the Review Conference ended, more than 100 governments had signed the Humanitarian Pledge initiated by Austria and growing from three international conferences on the human consequences of nuclear war, the last of which engaged 158 states. The pledge, which is a long way from a treaty, commits its signers "to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders, states, international organizations, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, parliamentarians and civil society, in efforts to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks."

The challenge, of course, is to build from this nonbinding statement to the diplomatic and popular pressure necessary to force the nuclear powers to finally fulfill their Article VI NPT commitments and the related International Court of Justice's advisory opinion on the use and threatened use of nuclear weapons.

A second source of hope grows from the international mobilization that brought thousands of activists to New York on the eve of the NPT Review, along with its Global Peace Wave of events in more than 50 countries. In addition to its street protest and the 8 million petition signatures calling for nuclear weapons abolition that were delivered to the president of the Review Conference and the UN high commissioner for disarmament affairs, the Peace and Planet network took important steps toward shattering movement silos.

Recognizing the limitations of single-issue movements and taking power analyses seriously, it has begun building alliances with peace, justice and environmental organizations to build more issue-integrated, and thus broader and more powerful, movements. These types of coalitional movements are capable of actually challenging the deeply entrenched systems that serve as the foundations of policies - including but not limited to nuclear weapons - that reinforce the power, profits and influence of the privileged few.

Here again, we have to navigate contradictions. Ridding the world of nuclear weapons is an urgent imperative, but building the integrated movements needed to achieve it will require patience, wisdom and time. In the United States, this means building trust and making common cause with climate change activists, with the Black Lives Matter movement, with Move the Money campaigns, and certainly with those working for a just Israel-Palestine peace and an end to Washington's endless Middle East wars. The anti-nuclear movement's next steps will be seen at the US Social Forum in Philadelphia this June, with commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings in August and global wave actions in the run up to September's International Peace Day and the International Day for the Complete Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

It's no accident that the vast majority of the US threats to initiate nuclear war have been made during wars and crises in the global South. As this century moves forward, the majority of the world's nations will no longer accept a discriminatory hierarchy of nuclear terror.


1. The P5 are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, each of which is a nuclear weapons state: the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China.

Opinion Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Taking Responsibility for Drone Killings: Obama and the Fog of War

When President Barack Obama apologized on April 23 to the families of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto, an American and an Italian, both hostages killed in a drone attack in Pakistan in January, he blamed their tragic deaths on the "fog of war."

"This operation was fully consistent with the guidelines under which we conduct counterterrorism efforts in the region," he said, and based on "hundreds of hours of surveillance, we believed that this (the building targeted and destroyed by drone launched missiles) was an al Qaeda compound; that no civilians were present." Even with the best of intentions and most stringent of safeguards, the president said, "it is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes — sometimes deadly mistakes — can occur."

The term "fog of war," Nebel des Krieges in German, was introduced by the Prussian military analyst Carl von Clausewitz in 1832, to describe the uncertainty experienced by commanders and soldiers on the battlefield. It is often used to explain or excuse "friendly fire" and other unintended deaths in the heat and confusion of combat. The term raises vivid images of chaos and ambiguity. Fog of war describes incredible noise and trauma, volleys of bullets and artillery shells, bone jarring explosions, screams of the wounded, orders shouted out and countermanded, vision limited and distorted by clouds of gas, smoke and debris.

War itself is a crime and war is hell, and in its fog soldiers can suffer from emotional, sensory and physical overload. In the fog of war, fatigued past the point of endurance and fearful both for their own lives and for those of their comrades, soldiers must often make split second decisions of life and death. In such deplorable conditions, it is unavoidable that "mistakes — sometimes deadly mistakes — can occur."

But Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto were not killed in the fog of war. They were not killed in war at all, not in any way war has been understood until now. They were killed in a country where the United States is not at war. No one was fighting at the compound where they died. The soldiers who fired the missiles that killed these two men were thousands of miles away in the United States and in no danger, even if anyone were firing back. These soldiers watched the compound go up in smoke under their missiles, but they did not hear the explosion nor the cries of the wounded, nor were they subjected to the concussion of its blast. That night, as the night before this attack, it can be assumed that they slept at home in their own beds.

The president attests that those missiles were fired only after "hundreds of hours of surveillance" were carefully studied by defense and intelligence analysts. The decision that lead to the deaths of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto was not reached in the crucible of combat but in the comfort and safety of offices and conference rooms. Their line of sight was not clouded by smoke and debris but was enhanced by the most advanced "Gorgon Stare" surveillance technology of the Reaper drones.

The same day as the president's announcement the White House Press Secretary also issued a release with this news: "We have concluded that Ahmed Farouq, an American who was an al-Qa'ida leader, was killed in the same operation that resulted in the deaths of Dr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto. We have also concluded that Adam Gadahn, an American who became a prominent member of al-Qa'ida, was killed in January, likely in a separate U.S. Government counterterrorism operation. While both Farouq and Gadahn were al-Qa'ida members, neither was specifically targeted, and we did not have information indicating their presence at the sites of these operations." If the president's drone assassination program sometimes accidently kills hostages, it also sometimes accidently kills Americans alleged to be members of al-Qa'ida and apparently the White House expects us to take some consolation in this fact.

"Hundreds of hours of surveillance" notwithstanding, and despite being "fully consistent with the guidelines under which we conduct counterterrorism efforts," the order to attack the compound was given in the absence of any indication that Ahmed Farouq was there or that Warren Weinstein was not. Three months after the fact, the United States government admits that they blew up a building that they had been watching for days without the slightest idea who was in it.

The "cruel and bitter truth" is actually that Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto were not killed in a "counterterrorism effort" at all, but in an act of terrorism by the United States government. They died in a gangland style hit that went awry. Killed in a high-tech drive-by shooting, they are victims of negligent homicide at best, if not of outright murder.

Another "cruel and bitter truth" is that people who are executed by drones far from a battlefield for crimes they have not been tried for or convicted of, such as Ahmed Farouq and Adam Gadahn were, are not enemies lawfully killed in combat. They are victims of lynching by remote control.

"Predators and Reapers are useless in a contested environment," admitted General Mike Hostage, chief of the Air Force's Air Combat Command in a speech in September, 2013. Drones have proven useful, he said, at "hunting down" al Qa'ida but are no good in actual combat. Since al Qa'ida and other terrorist organizations have only flourished and multiplied since Obama's drone campaigns took off in 2009, one might take issue with the general's claim for their usefulness on any front, but it is a fact that the use of lethal force by a military unit outside of a contested environment, outside of a battlefield, is a war crime. It might follow that even the possession of a weapon that is useful only in an uncontested environment is a crime, as well.

The deaths of two western hostages, one an American citizen, are indeed tragic, but no more so than the deaths of thousands of Yemeni, Pakistani, Afghan, Somali and Libyan children, women and men murdered by these same drones. Both the president and his press secretary assure us that the events in Pakistan last January were "fully consistent with the guidelines under which we conduct counterterrorism efforts," business as usual in other words. It seems that in the president's view, death is only tragic when it is inconveniently discovered that western non-Muslim people are killed.

"As President and as Commander-in-Chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations, including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni," said President Obama on April 23. From the time President Ronald Reagan took full responsibility for the Iran-Contra arms deal to the present, it is clear that a presidential admission of responsibility means that no one will be held accountable and that nothing will change. The responsibility that President Obama accepts for only two of his victims is too paltry for consideration and, along with his partial apology, is an insult to their memories. In these days of governmental evasions and official cowardice, it is crucial that there are some who do take full responsibility for all of those killed and act to stop these acts of reckless and provocative violence.

Five days after the president's announcement of Weinstein's and Lo Porto's murders, on April 28, I was privileged to be in California with a dedicated community of activists outside of Beale Air Force Base, home of the Global Hawk surveillance drone. Sixteen of us were arrested blocking the entrance to the base, reciting the names of children who have also been killed in drone attacks but without a presidential apology or even, for that matter, any admission that they died at all. On May 17, I was with another group of anti-drone activists at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and in early March, in the Nevada desert with more than one hundred resisting drone murders from Creech Air Force Base. Responsible citizens are protesting at drone bases in Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, New York at RAF Waddington in the United Kingdom, at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, at the White House and other scenes of these crimes against humanity.

In Yemen and in Pakistan, too, people are speaking out against the murders taking place in their own countries and at great risk to themselves. Lawyers from Reprieve and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights have filed suit in a German court, charging that the German government has violated its own constitution by allowing the U.S. to use a satellite relay station at Ramstein Air Base in Germany for drone murders in Yemen.

Perhaps one day President Obama will be held responsible for these murders. In the meantime, the responsibility that he and his administration shirks belongs to all of us. He cannot hide behind a fog of war and neither can we.

Opinion Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Germany's Asylum Seekers: You Can't Evict a Movement

Berlin - In a move to take their message of solidarity to refugees across the country and calling for their voices to be heard in Europe's ongoing debate on migration, Germany's asylum seekers have taken their nationwide protest movement for change on the road under the slogan: "You Can't Evict a Movement!".

Earlier this month, in a twist to conventional protest movements, refugees organised a Refugee Bus Tour across Germany, turning action into networking through mobile solidarity.

"We wanted to go out and bring a message of solidarity to all corners of Germany, to meet other refugees and tell them not to be afraid, to take life into their own hands and above all that you are not a criminal," Napuli Görlich told IPS, tired but relieved after a month of travelling.

On the morning of Apr. 1, Napuli had stood on this same spot, flanked by fellow campaigners Turgay Ulu,  Kokou Teophil and Gambian journalist Muhammed Lamin Jadama, staring at the burnt-out refugee Info Point in Berlin, victim of one of a number of disturbing arson attacks this year, including one on a refugee home in Tröglitz, in the eastern state of Saxony.

Until the day before, the Info Point had functioned as a social solidarity base in the heart of Berlin's Oranienplatz square, known here as the O'Platz. The square holds a symbolic importance as the central stronghold of the nation-wide refugee movement.

"That was a very sad moment for us," said Napuli. "Such brutal attacks hit us where it hurts most, in our sense of vulnerability, precariousness, and invisibility," she continued, vowing that the Info Point, registered as an art installation in Berlin's Kreuzberg district, will be rebuilt.

One of the most vocal and resilient personalities of the German refugee movement, Napuli was born in Sudan and studied at the universities of Ahfad and Cavendish in Kampala.  A human rights activist, she suffered torture and persecution for running an NGO and fled to Germany, where she has been with the refugee movement ever since.

From the start, she has also been associated with the O'Platz "protest camp", which became her home and that of 40 other refugees in October 2012.  They had pitched their tents in the square after a 600 km march from what they termed a "lager" reception centre in Würzburg, Bavaria. The refugees stayed, on braving the elements, until the district council ordered bulldozers to tear it down in April last year.

"When they came to clear the camp I had nothing, absolutely nothing, only a blanket on my shoulders," Napuli recalled. For the next three days, she took her blanket, her protest and her rage at the lack of an agreement with the Berlin authorities up a nearby tree, literally.

Germany's refugee movement was sparked by the suicide of a young Iranian asylum-seeker Mohammad Rahsepar who hanged himself in his room at the Würzbug reception centre on Jan. 29, 2012.  En route to the German capital the marchers stopped by other "lagers", starting to raise awareness about the inhumane conditions of isolation for asylum applicants, inviting them to leave their camps and join the march for freedom to Berlin.

Since then, the movement has been calling unequivocally for abolition of Germany's enforced residence policy, or "Residenzpflicht", a lager system which effectively denies asylum-seekers freedom of movement.

Other demands are an end to deportations, and rights to education, the possibility to work legally and access to emergency medical care, so far unavailable to asylum seekers.

After the O'Platz protest camp was razed to the ground, many of the prevalently African refugees occupied a vacant school building in Berlin, the Gerhardt-Hautmann-Schule in the Kreuzberg district's Ohlauerstrasse, where they ran social and cultural activities until June 2014.

The local authorities attempted to enforce an eviction order, flanked by a 900-strong federal police force, and barring all access to visitors, press, voluntary organisations and even Church groups were denied access to the school or delivery of food.

Refusing to leave the building, some of the refugees took to the school's rooftops for a nine-day hunger strike and standoff, waving a banner with the slogan "You can't evict a movement", which has now become the rallying cry of the refugees' movement.

Some, like Alnour, Adam Bahar and Turgay Ulu, continue to live here, still hopeful that the district will agree to a proposal to set up an international refugee centre here and that they may be able to receive visitors.

Angela Davis, the iconic U.S. civil and human rights activist, was denied access when she tried to visit them on the premises recently.  "The refugee movement is the movement of the 21st century," said Davis, referring to the plight of migrants worldwide.

"The Polizei can come at any time of night and snatch us away; we are under constant threat of deportation. I am feeling very stressed, I cannot sleep very well," Alnour told IPS, explaining how they have had to make do with one, cold, defective shower for 40 people.

Undeterred on his return from the Refugee Bus Tour, Turgay Ulu, a Turkish journalist who was tortured and imprisoned as a dissident for 15 years, published the refugee movement's magazine and is an active network organizer, has a very busy "working" schedule.

"There is a lot to do, from organising sleeping places for the homeless, writing and producing video content, organising spontaneous demonstrations and occupations, musical events, theatre performances, and consciousness-raising on national and international refugee bus tours," Ulu told IPS.

"We have two choices, we either sit in the lagers and eat, sleep and eat again and go crazy, or we protest."

Germany's problem has been the exceedingly long waiting times necessary for processing asylum applications.  The United Nations has reported that in 2014 the country had the highest number of asylum applications since the Bosnian War in 1992. There are reportedly 200,000 asylum applications still outstanding and it is being predicted that this will have risen to 300,000 this year.

Adam Bahar, a Sudanese blogger and one of the refugee movement's campaigners, told IPS that his dream of a better life of freedom and wealth evaporated when he reached Europe, where he soon realised that freedom and human rights are not for everyone to enjoy.

"In dictatorships, young people suffer systematic oppression for a mere criticism of the regime," he said. "Faced with joblessness and lack of freedom of expression, they will seek legal or illegal emigration following the lure of the foreign media's often empty slogans of justice and freedom."

Today, continued Bahar, who is in demand as a speaker and gives seminars at Berlin's Humboldt University, "colonialism, which was born in Berlin in 1884, is being implemented by starting wars and marketing weaponry."

As politicians busy themselves with strategies and programmes and allocating resources to more programmes to hold back refugees, they should be naming and shaming the real culprits instead, he said. "Change begins by uprooting dictators who are clandestinely colluding to misuse their nation's wealth and remain in power thanks to the support of the pseudo democracies of the first world."

Meanwhile, the refugee movement's unified front appears to be making some, albeit limited, headway. The forced residence system, for example, has been abolished in a number of federal states and the Berlin Senate has just announced plans to provide refugee shelter accommodation to be completed by 2017 in 36 locations for 7,200 asylum seekers spread out across Berlin's local districts at an overall cost of 150 million euros.

Germany is currently walking a tightrope between honouring its international humanitarian responsibilities, pursuing its international economic interests, including its remunerative arms sales contracts, and handling dangerous right-leaning swings in public opinion against immigrants.

At the same time, Germany is pursuing a risky carrot-and-stick immigration policy agenda which is sending out contradictory signals – a 10-year-old immigration law which placed Germany on the map as a land of "immigration" for highly skilled foreigners, while tightening restrictions for those who are not deemed to be candidates for economic integration.

At issue is the divisive policy which places refugees in "asylum-worthy" categories. "In Germany there are three categories of refugees," Asif Haji, a 30-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker, told IPS.

"The first are Syrians and other Middle East refugees who are awarded permits and education. Second come the Afghans and Pakistanis, who have to struggle a bit but are allowed language school and work permits. But then there are the Africans who are widely perceived as economic migrants leeching on the system and petty criminals dealing in drugs who are not particularly welcome anywhere."

"This is unfair," he said. "Human tragedy should not be classified."

News Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Taliban in Our Midst

Military officers who wear their religion on their sleeve are a danger to our country at any time, but especially after the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001.

Whether it's US Army Lieutenant General William G. Boykin telling his audience that "My God is bigger than his" in the close aftermath of that tragedy, or the more recent example of US Air Force Major General Craig Olson saying in uniform and in public—and speaking in tones far more like a preacher than a military officer—"I am a redeemed believer in Christ", these are dangerous men, making dangerous displays of religion.

Moreover, such displays occur in an environment where they are strictly prohibited by secular rules. These rules—and in the case of the US Air Force, written regulations—are in place for a reason.

First, they protect the Constitutional separation of church and state. No government representative should be seen advocating for any religion, period. We officers, when we take the oath of office, surrender for the duration of our service the privilege of publicly professing our religion, of "wearing it on our sleeve".

Second, these rules protect the good order and discipline of the military. Many religions—and no religion at all—exist throughout the ranks. To profess a particular religion from a leadership position is detrimental to that order and discipline. How might, for example, a Jewish soldier feel when his lieutenant professes his belief in Jesus before his platoon?  A Muslim soldier? An atheist?

In addition, a flag officer (a general or admiral) must be doubly careful because so many men and women are influenced by or fall under the sway and power of his or her every word and deed. Sometimes it might be thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, as was the case when I served then-chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Colin Powell—who, incidentally, would never have worn his religion on his sleeve.

Third, and becoming increasingly relevant every day that passes, public professions of religion by military officers give groups such as al-Qaeda, ISIS, al-Nusra and other religious fanatics superb propaganda to use against our soldiers in the field and against us, as a nation. We, in effect, become no better than they, some sort of American taliban. As such we excite more recruits, more followers, more zealots to their banners. We also grievously undermine our own cause, just as we undermine our own Constitution.

What US Air Force Major General Craig Olson did was particularly egregious. Not only does he display by his remarks the naiveté of a twelve-year-old Boy Scout—and thus call into immediate, serious question the billions of dollars and hundreds of young lives entrusted to his care and leadership—he also repeatedly calls on a single religion, indeed seems almost entranced by that religion, in uniform, in public, and on, of all things, God TV, an international broadcast. As a soldier of 31 years myself, I found his exhortations discomfiting, dismaying, and dangerous. Frankly, I also found them flatly incredible: I had never heard such words uttered by a general officer in my life.

Should the USAF punish him? Clearly, he has violated law and regulation. There is no doubt about that. But should he be punished?

The USAF is understandably afraid of certain members of the US Congress, as are all the Services when it comes to presenting an overt challenge to what these members of Congress believe is "every Christian's right to profess his or her religion, no matter the circumstances."

Congress' constant dalliance with such pseudo-Christian organizations as James Dobson's Focus on the Family-–whose members most remind me of the people at the famous Scopes trial in Tennessee, who for the most part were hopelessly ignorant— exacerbates this fear.

It was Dobson's wife's organization that sponsored the event during which Olson made his stunningly impassioned remarks. The event was camouflaged under the aegis of one Alabama Republican's name—Congressman Robert Aderholt—but everyone with any insight into Washington knows that Dobson was behind the entire event.

Aderholt certainly knew it, as his opening remarks at the event conveyed: "Thank you, Shirley [Mrs. Dobson], for your kind introduction and for this invitation to be here this morning." 

So, if the Air Force were to punish Olson it might have to pay the piper with regard to any angst it might generate in the Congress, the provider of its funds. Of course, another way to say this is that the leadership of the US Air Force has no guts. It writes rules and its officers disobey them with impunity.

In any event, if no action is taken it's a dangerous game, playing with fire this way. A game that will get Americans killed in future. A game that undermines the very law we fight to protect. A game that destroys our truest values.

But it is an understandable game in a Washington peopled by hypocrites, Luddites, science-deniers, cowards, rabble-rousers, greedy, self-serving politicians, warmongers and, oh yes, military officers who wear their religion on their sleeve.

Opinion Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
As Mountaintop Mining Spreads, Lawmakers Oppose Rule to Protect Streams

Washington - Congressional Republicans are seeking to block an imminent rule protecting Appalachian streams from mountaintop removal mining, as opponents of the controversial practice say the mines are getting closer to communities and harming people's health.

The White House is expected to announce a stricter rule for the disposal of mountaintop-removal mining waste into streams. Some Republicans in Congress are describing the move as the latest campaign in the Obama administration's "war on coal."

The House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, which has jurisdiction over mining, has been holding hearings and calling the rule a job killer. The chairman, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., backs a measure by West Virginia Republican Rep. Alex Mooney, which would block the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining from implementing the rule, calling for a study within two years, then a year of review, before any new stream protections.

By that point there would be a new president in the White House and different leadership at the Office of Surface Mining that could be friendlier to the coal industry.

"Should this stream buffer rule come to pass it would have a tremendous impact on further reducing mining in Kentucky," Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said in an interview.

Michael Hendryx, a health science professor at Indiana University, said in an interview that blocking the rule would force people living near the mines to keep suffering.

"They're going to continue to have higher rates of disease and premature death," said Hendryx. "There is plenty of solid evidence that mountaintop removal mining is done in a way that's not responsible for the environment or public health."

Hendryx, along with other scientists, has published more than two dozen peer-reviewed journal articles on the health impacts. Other research on the mining practice includes last year's U.S. Geological Survey findings that Appalachian streams impacted by mountaintop mining have less than half as many fish species and about a third as many fish as other streams.

"People who live in mountaintop removal communities compared to others have higher rates of lung disease, heart disease, cancer, birth defects and other types of health problems," Hendryx said.

Bissett of the Kentucky Coal Association called Hendryx biased and disputed his research. The coal company Alpha Natural Resources has asked the West Virginia Supreme Court for documents related to the preparation of Hendryx's papers when he was at West Virginia University and copies of any correspondence with environmental groups.

Meanwhile, the environmental group Appalachian Voices has released maps based on satellite data showing the mining coming closer to communities, a finding questioned by industry.

The group said it's hoping the new Obama administration rule will stop the widespread practice of states giving waivers to allow mining activity and waste dumping within 100 feet of streams.

"What we would like to see is a true buffer zone around all streams that cannot be infringed," said Thom Kay, legislative associate for Appalachian Voices.

Opponents of the upcoming Obama administration rule said the impact goes beyond the mountaintops, with West Virginia Rep. Mooney asserting at a congressional hearing last week that the "stream protection rule is intentionally designed to shut down all surface mining." The Kentucky Coal Association's Bissett said that, while federally designated mountaintop mining has diminished, other forms of surface coal mining still make up half the activity in Eastern Kentucky.

National Mining Association president Hal Quinn argued in testimony to Congress last week that the federal government has shown no need to act, and that even the Office of Surface Mining's own analysis of an earlier version of the rule said it would cost 7,000 jobs. Industry backers accuse the agency of manipulating job loss estimates and not consulting with the states.

The Obama administration is not providing details on the upcoming rule, which is expected to be released in June.

Office of Surface Mining Director Joseph Pizarchik recently told Congress that the rule would be a "wash" in terms of job loss, with only a couple hundred jobs gained or lost as a result.

News Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400