News Tue, 01 Dec 2015 04:15:26 -0500 en-gb On the News With Thom Hartmann: Big Pharma to Become One of Nation's Biggest Tax Cheats, and More

In today's On the News segment: Two of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world are about to merge; bus drivers in Silicon Valley are benefiting big time from collective bargaining; as cities criminalize homelessness, homeless people are fighting back; and more.

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


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

You need to know this. Big Pharma is about to become one of our nation's biggest tax cheats. According to a recent article over at Common Dreams, two of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world are about to merge, and they're going to skip out on paying their fair share of taxes while they're at it. Pfizer and Allergan, the makers of medications from Botox to Viagra, have announced that their merging into the world's largest drug manufacturer. As if that news isn't bad enough, the companies will also pull off the biggest corporate inversion ever, just so they can skip out on US taxes. By moving their new corporate headquarters to the lower-tax nation of Ireland, Pfizer will sell-out the taxpayers who helped build that company for the last 160 years. And, they haven't even announced yet how many US jobs that they'll be slashing in the process. This massive new pharmaceutical company will control many of the medications that Americans rely on, but their new monopoly will give them limitless power to raise prices and rake in more profit off of the sick. Of course, Pfizer officials claim that US tax rates prevent them from competing overseas. But, an analysis by Americans for Tax Fairness shows that the company only paid out 6.4 percent of their income over the last four years, and their lengthy patents protect them from any real competition. This move is all about money and power. As Gustav Ando of IHS Life Sciences explained, "This merger isn't meant to benefit patients, it isn't meant to innovate in any kind of way... and certainly, the benefits won't be passed on to consumers." President Obama, Democratic senators and various watchdog agencies are calling on Congress to make corporate inversions like this one illegal, but so far, very little has been done to reign in these tax-cheating schemes. It may be too late to stop Big Pharma from getting even bigger, but we can continue the fight against corporate monopolies, and we can let companies know how we feel about tax cheats.

Bus drivers in Silicon Valley are benefiting big time from collective bargaining. Earlier this month, drivers from a company called Compass Transportation ratified a new labor contract which will bring higher wages and better benefits. That contract is the latest development in a multi-year struggle with tech giants like Google and Facebook, who hire the drivers to bring their employees to and from the tech-company offices. As drivers ferried highly-paid workers back and forth, they quickly realized that they were being denied the health insurance, paid holidays and overtime pay that was bring provided to their passengers. So, they stood together and joined the Teamsters Union to fight for their workplace rights. Their new contract will bring all of the overtime pay, holiday pay and health insurance benefits that they deserve, and it will give drivers like Tracy Kelly a raise from $18 to $25 an hour. These drivers recognized that they have more power by standing together, and they are inspiring workers around our nation to do the same.

Cities around our nation have criminalized homelessness, but now, the homeless are fighting back. According to a recent article over at the Think Progress Blog, four homeless men in Manteca, California have filed a suit against the city, saying that the anti-homeless ordinances violate their constitutional rights. About a year ago, that city made it illegal for anyone to sleep or set up camp outside. Then, they passed an ordinance against using the bathroom outdoors at all. When asked whether the new laws were intended to ban homeless people, the city's chief of police said that they were only to "correct the wrong," and "if the correction is [the homeless] leaving Manteca, then that's their choice." However, rather than simply leaving, four of the homeless men impacted by the ordinances filed suit, saying the laws were passed with, "a discriminatory purpose of driving the homeless from the city." And, these brave men are not alone. A lawsuit has also been filed on behalf of the homeless in St. Augustine, Florida, and the Justice Department has filed a memo against similar laws in Boise, Idaho. The fact is, virtually no one is homeless by choice and it's wrong to prosecute someone simply for being stuck out on the street.

The ACLU wants Florida cops to stop seizing people's personal property. In a recent press release, the civil rights group is calling on the Florida legislature to address that state's out-of-control civil asset forfeiture practices. According to a stunning new report from the Florida Legislature Office of Program policy Analysis and Government Accountability, only 16 percent of individuals ever challenge an asset seizure, and only about 1 percent ever get the benefit of a full trial before their possessions are taken. In fact, there are so many asset forfeitures that the sale of them accounts for more than 2 percent of police agencies operating budget. As bad as these facts are, these statistics could be masking an even larger problem because it is voluntary for Florida police departments to report civil asset forfeitures - and half didn't bother to participate in the recent study. The ACLU said, "Now that OPPAGA's report has documented how often Florida's police agencies are seizing personal property, it is time for the legislature, which commissioned the report, to take action to bring an end to abuse of the system."

And finally... The AFL-CIO wants to be a part of your holiday season. That's why the national union is calling on all of us to look for the union label while we're shopping this year. According to their press release, the average American will spend more than $700 on gifts this year, and all that holiday shopping could help support a heck of a lot of union jobs. And, there are a still many gifts that are produced with union labor. For example, all Hasbro toys and games are made by union workers, and all the cell phone service at AT&T is provided by unionized service workers. Although the holiday season shouldn't be all about gifts, if you're going to be buying, be sure to support your favorite labor groups in the process.

And that's the way it is - for the week of November 30, 2015 - I'm Thom Hartmann - on the Economic and Labor News.

News Mon, 30 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Thousands Defy Paris State of Emergency, Protest Ban to Sound the Alarm on Global Climate Crisis

A major rally in Paris on the eve of the UN climate summit was canceled after authorities banned public protests in the aftermath of this month's Islamic State terror attacks. But on Sunday, tens of thousands of people formed a human chain stretching for blocks. After the human chain action ended, thousands of Parisians and international activists defied the French ban on protests and tried to march through the downtown streets. They were met by hundreds of riot police, who used tear gas, sound bombs and pepper spray. More than 200 protesters were arrested. Democracy Now! was live on the scene interviewing people throughout the streets.


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

AMY GOODMAN: Back in Paris, France, activists installed thousands of pairs of shoes in front of the Place de la République in downtown Paris, only blocks from where the November 13 shooting happened at the Bataclan occurred to symbolize the desire to march. Yannick, a French citizen who donated her shoes to the installation, said she felt it was important the protesters' presence was felt.

YANNICK: I find it very moving. It is a very strong message as we do not have the right to take part in the large March which was organized, it was important our presence was felt. All of these shoes represent all of the people who are committed to do something for climate change, to do something this week when there will be a lot of debate.

AMY GOODMAN: In downtown Paris, tens of thousands of people also formed a human chain stretching down the sidewalk for blocks. Demonstrator Romain Porcheron said the chain represents solidarity.

ROMAIN PORCHERON: The idea is to show that all citizens of the world are aware and the common environmental and ecological objective is not individualist, it is about solidarity and the sharing between populations, that we are all in the same boat. That is planet Earth. If each one of us accept taking one step forward to change little habits, which then evolves into systematic change, we will be able to solve the crisis of climate change which threatens the entirety of humanity.

AMY GOODMAN: Indigenous people from the Arctic took to the Amazon took part in the human chain in Paris calling for urgent action on climate change and highlighting the disproportionate impact of global warming on frontline communities. After the human chain action ended, thousands of Parisians and international activists defied the French ban on protests and attempted to march through the streets of downtown Paris. They were met by hundreds of riot police, who used tear gas, sound bombs, pepper spray in an effort to break up the demonstration in the Place de la Rèpublique. More than 200 protesters were arrested after police with shields and riot gear stormed the monument at the Place a la Rèpublique, trampling on the flowers and candles commemorate the November 13 attacks. And forcibly removing protesters who'd linked arms around the statue to protect it. Democracy Now! was live on the scene interviewing people throughout the protests.

PROTESTER 1: I'm here because wanted to walk for the climate convention. Don't consider the citizens' opinion and what citizens want to do. They prefer shoot us than listen to us.

PROTESTER 2: We're here at Rèpublique where demonstrators in the hundreds, it's hard to say how many, have gathered. The police response has been teargas and these sound bomb canisters that they're dispersing into the crowd.

SHEILA: I'm Sheila. I'm from Oakland, and I'm here because it's supposed to be the most important climate negotiation of all time. I was an environmental studies student and they just constantly talked about COP21. And if something didn't happen this year, if a negotiation wasn't made that was binding, then we would see drastic effects of climate change that would be a reversible.

JEN: We are in the Place de la Rèpublic in Paris. It's demonstrating after the climate demonstration. And so now we gather to focus on also state of emergency, and plus climate change, and actually the cops are just launching gas bombs on us.

PROTESTER 3: We are just right on the right - in front of the statue. And the statue is important for us. More important today because there are many candles on the statue and we want to protect it. I'm not much in demonstration and uh - but this time, when I understood that the French state, the French government used the law, they began attacking the left activists. And it's just incredible that so many people in France don't understand what is happening. Everything that is going to switch from fighting against terrorism to a fight against citizens.

PROTESTER 4: We're not the ones causing the problem. The French state and the European states and the North American states are causing the problem, and we're the ones suffering from it.

INTERVIEWER: If the COP's opening tomorrow, what is your message on climate change?

PROTESTER 5: Our message is that the answer resides in everybody, in our lifestyles, in the way we live, and we have to change the way we live. We have to stop commercial relationships with some countries. We have to stop our consumption of oil and our consumption of nuclear, and that goes with - that goes with the change of our lifestyle.

PROTESTER 1: The only problem with security is that policemen are attacking us. That is an absence of security. There are no terrorists here. There are no terrorists.

PROTESTER 5: Yeah, that's the state of -

PROTESTER 1: There are the terrorists. They are shooting us.

PROTESTER 6: What I'm doing here is clear. I don't - I protest against the emergency state, which is a parody of protection for the citizens and is transform into repression against the citizens.

PROTESTER 4: As you can see they've blocked off every entrance around Rèpublique. They won't let us go anywhere.

PROTESTER 6: Several friends of us have been arrested.

PROTESTER 4: We can't give too much information, but repression in our circle has been quite extensive.

JEN: My name is Jen. I live in Paris, and I'm a militant for environment. I have no hope in events like COP, because, you know, they have partners like AF, like Bic, like Ikea, like Cafro, which are - like L'Orèal - which are enormous polluters, no? Air France is like planes everywhere. Bic is disposable stuff. Ikea, it's planned obsolescence. I have a panel which is written, right to demonstrate because, here in Paris, today, we're not supposed to demonstrate, we don't have the right. The march has been forbidden. But still we are here. And we make some noise.

PROTESTER 7: The government shouldn't be using fear to stop us to protest what we believe in. Cop21 has been scheduled for very long time, even before the attacks they decided to increase security at the borders. This isn't about terrorism. I'm here to fight fear and the use of fear.

AMY GOODMAN: More than 200 people were arrested. French President Francois Hollande condemned the clashes between protesters and police as "scandalous" and blamed the protesters for trampling on the monument, even though video footage shows the police smashing the glass candles and trampling on the flowers. Activists said that actions and demonstrations would continue throughout the summit. Special thanks to Sam Alcoff, Laura Gottesdiener and John Hamilton for that report. We're going to go to break. When we come back, we'll hear from indigenous activist Tom Goldtooth and his son Dallas, of the 1491s, bestselling author Naomi Klein, French farmer José Bové and more. Stay with us.

News Mon, 30 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Indigenous Climate Activists: Paris "Police State" Is the Reality Front-Line Communities Live With

Democracy Now! catches up with Dallas Goldtooth of the comedy group the 1491s, and his father Tom Goldtooth, executive director of Indigenous Environmental Network, at The Place to B, a Paris hostel that serves as the center for independent journalists covering COP21. Tom Goldtooth recently won the Gandhi Peace Award. "If you look at the scenario we're facing right now in Paris, you have a heightened police state, you have unreasonable bureaucracy, limited resources," Dallas says. "This is our element as frontline communities. This is the world we exist in."


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

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, and I see in one of these meeting rooms, Tom Goldtooth, who is a long time indigenous leader from the United States. His son Dallas Goldtooth and many others, familiar faces at these COPs as it goes from one generation to another. Let's go inside. There was supposed to be a massive march on Sunday. But it was canceled because of the Paris attacks. Tom Goldtooth, your thoughts on this?

TOM GOLDTOOTH: Well, definitely, as people of our big delegation here from Indigenous Environment Network, GGJ and the CJA, Climate Justice Alliance, Grass Roots for Global Justice, you know, we stand in solidarity with the people starting from, you know, Beirut, from here, you know, a lot of people - we met a lot of people here. And some people got hurt here, too, so we come here with prayer.

But, you know, the reaction is just really not surprising to me because I've been one of those fighters for social justice and environmental justice, but the reaction and how they're treating local communities here, they're really targeting certain communities that are - they considered left side. And I think that's wrong. And the other issue here is just the banning of the civil society. I mean, part of democracy is that the people who are disenfranchised, the people on the front lines of these struggles of climate justice, energy justice, food sovereignty and all of the related issues, you know, why are they being called out here? And why are - why is that voice being shut down?

AMY GOODMAN: Dallas, you grew up in this movement. How does climate change affect you, your community?

DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: Well, the thing is that most folks think we are here just to talk about climate and it's not necessarily - it's greater than that. We're talking about climate justice. And that's all-encompassing. That's, you know, if you look at the scenario we're facing right now in Paris, I mean, you have a heightened police state, you have unreasonable bureaucracy, you have limited resources. I mean, this is our element as frontline communities. This is the world we exist in.

And so, we are rising to the challenge to speak up and not only talk about what we are fighting against, but also what we're fighting for and that's just transition towards a renewable sustainable society. In Minnesota and along a lot of the indigenous communities is having sincere conversation of how we can build sustainable sovereign nations and also have a conversation about what does localized energy production look like, what does localized food production look like, what does it mean to really self determine our future as native people?

AMY GOODMAN: That's Dallas Goldtooth of the 1491s and his father, Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of The Indigenous Environmental Network, based in Minnesota on Turtle Island, also known as North America. Tom Goldtooth recently won the Gandhi Peace Award. In a press statement issued by the Indigenous Environmental Network today, Tom Goldtooth said "We are here in Paris to tell the world that not only will the anticipated Paris Accord not address climate change, it will make it worse because it will promote false solutions and not keep fossil fuels from being extracted and burned." He said, "The Paris COP21 is not about reaching a legally binding agreement on cutting greenhouse gases. In fact, the Paris Accord may turn out to be a crime against humanity and Mother Earth."

News Mon, 30 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Swedish Fascists Burn Homes, Blame Crisis on Refugees

"Burn all of them down, but first nail the doors and windows shut."

"If you want to achieve the full effect, wait until the house is full of people."

These are just two examples of the several thousand remarks left by Sweden Democrats' online following the most recent case of arson; an incident that left a home sheltering 14 refugees destroyed. One Internet thread detailed the various recipes and necessary ingredients to make napalm.

The formerly obscure and enfeebled Sweden Democrats (SD) - a far right, anti-immigrant, nationalist party whose roots are in neo-Nazism - has been transformed into one of the most potent political forces in Sweden. By transmogrifying immigrants into villains - enemies of both the welfare state and Swedish values - the party has gleaned over 25 percent of the popular vote.

The most recent refugee-home torching came after SD political leaders announced that the immigrant issue should be taken to the streets, outside the ambit of parliament. The intentional ambiguity of the statement galvanized more than a few zealous of their supporters to action, resulting in a spike of refugee-home burnings, a trend that was only recently - after the 17th fire - condemned by SD officials.

While the world might have united for a few ephemeral seconds around the image of Aylan - the Syrian boy who drowned alongside his brother in the Mediterranean - in the end the refugee crisis only seems to have bolstered the xenophobia, nationalism, and violence sweeping across Europe. In Germany alone, there have been over 505 attacks against refugees and refugee-homes this year. It is a trend that seems, at first glance, to challenge our approximation to what Jeremy Rifkin coined The Empathetic Civilization.

And though all this might come as a surprise, there is nothing surprising about prejudice and intolerance in Europe. What is surprising, is how the current right-wing political trend as well as the refugee crisis find their origins in the same systemic illness.

European Intolerance and Swedish Neo-Nazism

While you might think that the experiences of World War II and the Bosnian War would be sufficient deterrents against pursuing anything remotely nationalistic or ethnically intolerant, history invariably reveals our collective short-term memory. The current anti-immigrant demagoguery and the consequent resurgence of nationalist parties across Europe, many of whom have their origins in neo-Nazism, seems to testify to this.

Kenan Malik reminds us in a recent article that Europe has never been a homogenous place - even when its citizens shared the same skin color and religion - and that intolerance has always had its place in European society. The former urban and rural poor were often treated and referred to as "inferior savage races".

Sweden's history is no different. Its romance with Nazism precedes World War II, and while it might have dematerialized for a little bit, this uncompromising current never altogether vanished.

The country's economic crisis in the 1990s, coupled with an immigration policy that provided asylum for around 85,000 war refugees from the former Yugoslavia, led to emergence of various neo-Nazi movements. As immigration slowed so did these sentiments. However once again, the kind of cultural prejudice and intolerance that wouldn't have been out of place in 18th century France, Victorian England, Nazi Germany, or 1990s Sweden is on the rise.

Bushisms and Republican Machinations in Europe

The spate of burnings represents a recent and more outwardly aggressive trend against immigrants. It has been fueled in part by Europe's latest generation of nationalist demagogues, whose irresponsible rhetoric - and subtle complicity, at least in Sweden, by not denouncing these burnings until recently - is partially responsible for the proliferation of this violence.

While it is hard to imagine Europe becoming as politically intransigent as the US, its ultra-right parties are well on their way to sounding as fear-mongering as American Republicans. Jimmie Åkesson, the current leader of SD, ran his last, and very successful, campaign on a platform of fear-inducing casuistry, proclaiming: "The election is a choice between mass immigration and welfare. You choose."

Nothing is that cut and dry in Sweden or Europe. These are parliaments with an array of eclectic political parties; negotiations, pacts, and compromise are an immutable part of the political machine. Furthermore there isn't any reliable evidence demonstrating the incompatibility of immigration and a healthy welfare state; as we will see, studies show just the opposite.

But by drawing such a stark line - rendering immigration and the welfare state seemingly irreconcilable - Mr. Åkesson, just like other right-wing politicians in Europe, has polarized the argument. He has pitted immigration directly against the welfare state - a sacrosanct entity in Sweden and Europe.

You almost begin to wonder if Europe's ultra-right are emulating the rhetorical stratagems of Bush and Rumsfeldt. Mr. Åkesson's ultimatum had a similar ring to the infamous, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." Fear corrodes rationality and reason, and such polarizing and fear-mongering rhetoric in the post-9/11 era allowed Bush and Co. to manipulate the American public with the precision of Butcher Ding. In this post-Paris epoch such tactics will be especially potent.

Indulging the particular fears of Swedes, whose long history with the welfare state is an indelible part of the national ethos, is a particularly effective way of gaining support, especially from a demographic whose tenuous position in society renders them especially susceptible to such sophistry.

There are few general demographic features that are characteristic of not only SD supporters, but also ultra-right adherents across Europe. On the whole they are young, male, under-educated, and under-employed. In Sweden their main interests are cars, motorcycles, TV, video games, and sport fishing.

Though it would undoubtedly be much easier to just shake our fists and rebuke the throngs of right-wing voters as racists, Euro-trash, or bigoted nationalists, in the end we would only be playing the same superficial and spurious blame game as their demagogue leaders. Furthermore, this would only give us a very superficial understanding of a population that has been shaped by a much more complicated process.

Neoliberalism - the Real Enemy

Historically Sweden was one of the strongest and most equitable welfare states in the world. However, in the early '90s Sweden endured a financial crisis and things began to change. As a stopgap measure to parry the crisis, and the resultant hyperinflation, Sweden instituted a series of austerity measures and reforms that cut social benefits, curtailed union power, reduced the size of the public sector, and initiated a process of privatization that continues today.

If this sounds familiar, it is because it is the same process that has been replicated almost universally since the 1980s around the world. From the US to Latin America, to Africa, to Asia, to Russia, and most recently Greece, IMF and World Bank economists as well as technocrats from these same regions, have been imposing this same package - often coercively or with the support of autocrats propped up by the West.

These reforms reflect a mode of economic thinking known as neoliberalism. Under neoliberalism the individual and the market are supreme entities to which modern nation-states genuflect, serve, and remain subservient. As Margaret Thatcher, one of neoliberalism's greatest champions said: "There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women…People look to themselves first."

Whereas it was previously the state's responsibility to provide employment to its citizens, according to neoliberalism it is the individual's responsibility. If you are unsuccessful, it isn't the state, economy, or any of the distortions and inequalities therein entrenched that are accountable; it is your own failure as a human.

SD's Unfortunate Relationship With Neoliberalism

So how does this relate to ultra-right in Sweden and Europe, you might be asking. The shrinking of the public sector, and the curtailment of unions meant the weakening of union and labor power, and as a consequence, also a loss of solidarity and identity. The Swedish welfare state, which had previously unified different sectors of Swedish society through its collectivism, was slowly dismembered.

Moreover, by dissolving the public sector as well as union power, many Swedes were left without jobs or the social benefits that would've previously buffered the unemployed. With fewer jobs, a greater burden and pressure on the individual to find work - meaningful or not - and no social safeguards to mitigate the precariousness of being unemployment, many Swedes were left behind. One universal legacy of neoliberalism is inequality. Today, among all 34 OECD countries today, inequality is growing fastest in Sweden.

Rising levels of inequality, economic marginalization, and social isolation have limited participation in mainstream Swedish society and the economy. The result has been the disenfranchisement of many Swedes. Today, out of a population of 9 million, 618,000 Swedes are working temporary jobs with little security.

The economic vulnerability and peripheral social status of this vast population renders them susceptible to the populist rhetoric of right-wing politicians, who pander directly to their deepest fears and insecurities. Not only have these leaders created a tangible, albeit specious, enemy and source to their woes, immigrants, but they have also forged a collective sense of identity - through their struggle against both immigration and the neoliberal technocrats in the EU - under which they can unite.

The discourse around immigration has invariably been fueled by misperceptions and xenophobia. You don't have to dig all that deeply to see the benefits of migration, something that has been for too long severely and irresponsibly misrepresented.

Immigrants are generally entrepreneurial, they fill various labor niches of the economy - especially in Europe where the aging population necessitates more working-age laborers - generally contribute more to the welfare state than they take in benefits, and are highly motivated to contribute and create a better society. Furthermore, over 50 percent of immigration to Europe in 2015 will come from Syria, a population whose highly-skilled workforce sets them apart from immigrants emanating from other countries.

Refugees, Neoliberalism's Collateral Damage

Ironically and sadly, neoliberalism - and the associated economic and geopolitical machinations that have swept through the Middle East and Africa over the last 30 years - is also largely responsible for the current refugee crisis.

The imperative of neoliberalism is to open new markets through liberalization and increase global demand by creating new consumer bases. Where certain powers like the US, China, or the EU, see themselves as guardians of the market, and where they have certain market interests, such as mineral extraction in Africa and oil, there are inevitably transgressions, especially where regulations and law are ineffective and corruption is commonplace. Unfortunately this is ubiquitous in most of the developing world.

Neoliberalism might have opened the economies of Africa up for direct foreign investment, but the price has been the disruption and reshuffling of economies, labor markets, and public sectors, such as education, health care, and sanitation, according to Western paradigms and interests. There have been a few winners, but mostly there have been losers. Many immigrants are economic refugees whose livelihoods have been crushed by global capital, corporate interests, the commodification of local agriculture, and the downsizing of the state.

Those refugees fleeing failed-states, where violence, human rights' abuses, and insecurity prevail, such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Libya, are the collateral damage of neoliberal geopolitics.

In these areas oil, finance, business, autocracy, democracy, and national economic interests all mix, mingle, and blur into something that may appear opaque but is pretty straightforward. Like an addict, neoliberalism depends on a constant and dependable source of cheap oil. Cheap oil means more pocket money for consumers, and generally, global economic growth. The neoliberal paradigm requires constant growth to continue functioning. Cheap oil is an expedient but very short-term and costly way of achieving this.

While we would all like to believe that the refugee crisis inspired the latest international interventions in Syria, it seems more likely that it is just one more geopolitical power play as Europe tries to wean itself from Russian gas, and Russia tries to protect the several billions it has already invested in oil investments in Syria. And let's not forget that war has become an economy and market unto itself, with US defense firms making a killing on weapons sales to Iraq and Syria.

We Are All Burning

There are boons to crises. They bring us face to face with certain paradigmatic insufficiencies and by doing so they encourage us to engage in a kind of collective introspection. While "Generation Me" signals the fruition of Thatcher's dream, we are beginning to see that a life of me is not only narcissistic and vacuous, but also noxious to the common good.

Neoliberalism, according to former Uruguayan president Jose Mujica, has created, "…a civilization against simplicity, against sobriety, against all natural cycles, and against the most important things: Adventure. Solidarity. Family. Friendship. Love."

Ironically it isn't "rational" self-interest, but giving, kindness, and cooperation that guarantee our own longevity and that of our species. If anything is going to change, it will require a collective effort of disengaging ourselves from the current mythology of individualism; of sublimating the self to the whole, taking to giving, and engaging not in the myopic trappings of the hedonic treadmill but in a politics of compassion and empathy.

In the end aren't we all refugees - a great diaspora of randomness sheltered under the thin blue atmospheric line of the planet? By leaving the roots of neoliberalism in tact and unattended we are only stoking the existential and economic flames that will, at some point, engulf all of us.

News Mon, 30 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
North Carolina Teen Loses Case Over Climate Change, Vows to Keep Fighting

Hallie Turner, the 13-year-old girl who took North Carolina to court over climate change, received disappointing news the day before Thanksgiving.

A Wake County Superior Court judge ruled against her effort to overturn a December 2014 decision by the NC Environmental Management Commission.

But with the pluck of a teen wise beyond her years, Hallie said Friday the ruling from Judge Mike Morgan had not deterred her.

"It's an issue that I'm always going to continue trying to make a difference in," Hallie said during a phone interview. "There's lots of next steps that can be taken."

Hallie, an eighth-grader at Ligon Middle School who has been marching and rallying against global warming since the 4th grade, is one of a number of teens taking their states and politicians to court over climate change.

With the help of lawyers from Our Children's Trust, an Oregon-based climate change non-profit, attorneys from Duke University's Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, and Gayle Goldsmith Tuch, a Forsyth County lawyer, Hallie petitioned the state Environmental Management Commission to adopt rules that would reduce greenhouse gases. Commission members are appointed by the governor and leaders of the NC Senate and House of Representatives.

In her petition almost a year ago to the 15 members of the commission, Hallie asked for a rule that would require North Carolina to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by at least 4 percent annually.

The commissioners never got to the crux of her request, which included scientific data and more to support her theory for why the state should curb greenhouse gas emissions. Commissioner Benne Hutson rejected Hallie's petition because he said it was incomplete. He also added that North Carolina law prohibited environmental agencies from enacting state laws stricter than federal law.

Earlier this month, the commission adopted a proposal from the state Department of Environmental Quality that is much less stringent than what was suggested by Hallie and the attorneys who helped her draft her petition.

After waiving the routine 30-day comment period, the commission adopted a rule to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at Duke Energy power plants by 0.4 percent. A strategy put forward by the US Environmental Protection Agency would require a 12-percent reductionby 2030.

Tuch, one of Hallie's lawyers, said Friday she did not know why Morgan ruled against her. Morgan has not yet issued his formal order. It is expected in couple of weeks.

As the state gears up for an expected legal battle over the greenhouse gas emissions strategy adopted earlier this month, Hallie and her legal team are thinking about next steps in their case.

Several options are under consideration, including an appeal of Morgan's ruling or taking a different petition to the Environmental Management Commission that might clear the hurdle as complete and something the 15 members could put out for public review.

Hallie said the judicial process has been educational. "It's connected to so many things that I've been learning at school in social studies," she said.

Hallie's parents have learned a lot, too. When numerous media outlets shared news about the Wake County court hearing earlier this month, the Turners were amazed by some of the negative comments posted on the sites. Commenters who challenged the idea of global warming accused the adults supporting Hallie of exploitation. Some directed derogatory comments at the teen, too.

"My reaction was just a bit of astonishment that people were that trivial and bitter," said Kelly Turner, Hallie's mother.

Mark Turner, a regular blogger on city issues and more, singled out some of the comments on a post he wrote about the experience.

Hallie brushed off the downside to her activism. She maintains that she was not pushed into filing the petition or lawsuit. The adults who have been beside her are mentors and supporters, but the impetus is her own, she said.

"The comments don't really bother me," she said. What troubled her, Hallie said, were the commenters who questioned scientific data that she contends bolster her push for change.

Hallie encouraged people disappointed in Morgan's ruling to turn out for a Dec. 17 hearing at the Archdale Building in Raleigh. The hearing is to get feedback on the energy strategy adopted earlier this month by the Environmental Management Commission.

"Climate change is too urgent for any of us to sit quietly while the state fails to take significant action," Hallie said.

News Mon, 30 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Hearts, Minds and Body Counts: The Politics of El Salvador's Security Crisis

El Salvador has now surpassed its neighbor, Honduras, with the world's highest murder rate. But it's poor people who suffer the brunt of gang violence while the right-wing opposition and its private security firms exacerbate it and undermine progressive social programs for political gain.

Members of El Salvadorian police force detain a man in possession of an illegal firearm in San Salvador, El Salvador, May 26, 2015. (Meridith Kohut / The New York Times) Members of the Salvadorian police force detain a man in possession of an illegal firearm in San Salvador, El Salvador, May 26, 2015. (Meridith Kohut / The New York Times)

Estela Ramírez knows firsthand the debilitating effect that insecurity has on individuals and communities.

As longtime union activists in the precarious garment industry, she and her fellow organizers are increasingly fearful to navigate the working-class neighborhoods that host both garment factories and their employees - neighborhoods with steadily rising murder rates. They are also increasingly concerned about braving the bus routes that take workers to union meetings and activities. Some of her colleagues have faced gang threats, intimidation and violence at the behest of employers for their labor activism in the maquila factories. Ramírez sighs. "All this bloodshed is directed at the poor," she says. "Here, the rich don't die. Poor people die."

Homicide rates in El Salvador have been climbing steadily since the late 1990s, peaking at 4,382 violent deaths in 2009. Those numbers fell by a half in 2012 during a brief and controversial truce established between the two principal gangs (MS-13 and 18th Street). But the truce fell apart as the government refused to assume responsibility for the negotiations, and public opinion fell in full force against any dialogue with the gangs. Murders returned to their pre-truce levels, and have spiked alarmingly since the election of the current leftist administration of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) in 2014. In recent months, gang members have started to target police officers and soldiers for assassination, with occasional grenades and even car bombs being used to attack police stations and public buildings; in a disturbing show of force, gang threats forced a mass transit shut down for several days in July. With more than 5,000 homicides so far this year, El Salvador has now surpassed its neighbor, Honduras, with the world's highest murder rate.  

The skyrocketing body count in the small Central American republic of El Salvador has drawn a surge of sensationalist media coverage in recent months. While the government's response has been subject to scrutiny, few have examined the role of El Salvador's notoriously recalcitrant right-wing opposition in the surge of violence.

"The truth is, Hilary, that the issue of insecurity is not new in El Salvador," Ramírez tells me as she leans forward in a plastic chair in a small San Salvador office. "Violence has always existed in the country. During the '70s there was great repression, there was a lot of bloodshed. Throughout the whole era of the armed conflict in our country, too, the bloodshed continued. We have always been immersed in violence. But when is there a greater surge? The surge comes when a leftist government arrives."

The Roots of Violence

The current crisis of violence facing El Salvador has deep historical roots - roots in which the United States is inextricably entangled.

Social violence in El Salvador, and particularly the rise of notorious street gangs like MS-13 and 18th Street, has sprung from fertile terrain. The country has endured centuries of economic inequality and exclusion, perpetuated by US-pushed neoliberal economic policies that ravaged domestic industries and degenerated working conditions, giving rise to the notorious sweatshop sector in which Ramírez organizes. Salvadorans withstood decades of homicidal military dictatorships, culminating a brutal 12-year civil war (1980-1992) between the repressive US-backed right-wing regime and leftist guerilla rebels, during which the US financed, supplied and trained the security forces that terrorized the civilian population. In the meantime, families and communities are constantly torn apart by desperate cycles of migration and deportation to and from the United States. In fact, both MS and 18th Street were founded on the streets of Los Angeles before they were exported by Clinton's deportation policies.

Organized crime, in turn, has historically been tied to both right-wing paramilitary death squads and narcotrafficking in El Salvador. In recent years, however, as US Drug War policies like Plan Colombia pushed the lucrative drug transit industry from Colombia into Central America, organized crime has increasingly turned to gang structures as foot soldiers and hired guns. What began as street gangs fighting over turf and local extortion rackets have evolved into criminal structures with access to military-grade weaponry and a growing stake in the lucrative drug trade.

This undercurrent of organized crime rarely surfaces in news coverage of violence in El Salvador. According to Ramírez, this is no coincidence. The onslaught of homicides, extortions and crime have the greatest impact on El Salvador's most vulnerable: the poor and working class.

In the neoliberal landscape of the postwar, the nation's wealthy elite and powerful transnational companies rest easy behind high walls and armed private security firms, while poor neighborhoods and small businesses bear the brunt of the violence, delinquency and fear. "The media says: Violence? Gangs. Death? Gangs. Everything is gangs," Ramírez says. "When really, it's not just them; there are organized crime groups here, there's drug trafficking here, there's something deeper. But the powers of the media, what do they show? Gangs, gangs, gangs, so that the people are focused on the children of the poor."

The Government's Response

Violent homicides in October averaged over 20 per day, and some 50 police officers and soldiers have been assassinated since January. The palpable climate of insecurity, fed by the apocalyptic news cycle, has consolidated public opinion overwhelming in favor of the kind of repressive policing that progressives have long rejected, including the controversial use of the military in public security operations. After the gangs consolidated territory and influence throughout the opaque truce process, Salvadorans are also now adamantly opposed to any suggestion of dialogue or negotiations with the gangs - an option thoroughly foreclosed anyhow, thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling that classified gangs as terrorist organizations. The population, besieged by gang extortions, threats, theft and violence, is frustrated and fearful, and the Sánchez Cerén administration has obliged by enforcing a widely reported crackdown on the gangs, despite legitimate concerns from human rights defenders about militarization and potential abuses.

But the iron fist is not the administration's long game. The FMLN has overseen unprecedented increases in social spending to strike at the root causes of violence, including crucial education, health care and agricultural policy. Other initiatives, like those of the National Youth Institute, work to provide young people with employment, education and recreation opportunities as alternatives to migration, violence and crime. These programs are beginning to rebuild the social safety net that was decimated by US-pushed neoliberal policies implemented under the four consecutive governments of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party (1989-2009), and to strengthen the deteriorated social fabric of Salvadoran society.

Most significantly, the president convened a Citizen Security and Coexistence Council, which brings together stakeholders from across the political, governmental, religious and civil society spectrum to forge a consensus on a national security strategy. The plan produced by the Council focuses 74 percent of its proposals on violence prevention and job creation, with other programs to foster rehabilitation for offenders, provide care for victims and improve law enforcement capabilities. It is a truly groundbreaking document, not only for its comprehensive, long-term vision of violence as a structural problem, but for the participatory process through which is was produced.

The Council's plan, however, requires a $2.1 billion budget, and while some of the proposals are now being rolled out in the most at-risk municipalities, the government requires a great deal more funding before it can be fully implemented. And ARENA, still a formidable force in the legislature and the FMLN's principal political opposition, has refused to give its votes for international loans to finance such projects. At the same time, the conservative Supreme Court has struck down recent progressive tax reforms and frozen $100 million in loans destined towards public security and violence prevention.

The Opposition

With the country in such turmoil, why would some public servants actively block funding for crucial public safety measures? As it turns out, the opposition has everything to gain from the unfolding security crisis.

The 2009 electoral victory of the leftist FMLN party of the former guerillas swept the elite from power for the first time in El Salvador's history. After FMLN leader Salvador Sánchez Cerén won the next presidential elections in 2014, the right, led by ARENA, began escalating their destabilization tactics against the government. Using their control of the commercial mass media, rumors on social media and reckless political obstruction in the legislature, and allied magistrates on the Supreme Court, the opposition has sought to foment a climate of fear and instability, and to impede successful leftist governance at any cost.

"When we analyze the issue of violence, it's necessary to dive into the roots," says Ramírez. "Who finances it? Who provides the weapons?"

El Salvador's booming private security industry is dominated by former right-wing military officials. Retired Army Capitan César Ivan Rivas Guevara and his family, for example, control at least three private security groups. Col. Salvador Adalberto Henriquez of the Salvadoran Airforce, in turn, cofounded another local security giant. The late Adolfo Tórrez, an infamously corrupt leader in ARENA and former soldier under the Somosa dictatorship in Nicaragua, was also the owner his own security firm. "How many millions to those companies make in the arms trade?" asks Ramírez, her voice rising. "It would outrage people! They are profiting from our pain. They are profiting from our dead."

But the right doesn't just profit from violence: It manipulates it for political gain. I asked Ramírez what the right achieves politically from instability. "Well, because then they point to the government as incapable of giving the people security. What do they gain? As we say in El Salvador: el rio revuelto es ganancia del pescador (a churning river is a boon to the fisherman)," she says. "The right strengthens itself by raising this issue, because they are taking advantage of people's pain. They are taking advantage of people's outrage. And the more that are killed, it's like stoking the people to rise up against the government. That's what's at the bottom of the bloodshed. That's what the right gains: the recovery of executive power."

Ramírez is not alone in her analysis. In April, social movement leader Margarita Posada of the National Healthcare Forum publically denounced what she called a, "perverse campaign that has been launched by the ARENA party and all its associated partisan bodies, like the National Association of Private Enterprise and the Salvadoran Foundation for Social and Economic Development and some media outlets, exacerbating the levels of violence, calling on the population not to leave their houses." Posada reasoned: "Since one of the problems most felt by the people is insecurity, they grab onto this issue in a perverse way that through using and seeding terror they generate anxiety and fear and leave the population inactive. From an economic standpoint, they are the owners of arms businesses and the owners of the private security service businesses, and therefore the insecurity and the climate of anxiety generates more business for them."

Faced with a daily barrage of fear-mongering headlines like "Homicides Cause a Serious Impact of Terror" (published August 17), "September Could Close with 700 Homicides" (September 22), "Thousands of Gang Members Will Go Free in a Decade" (published October 14) and "Gangs Operating in Former Guerilla Bastions (October 18), it's no wonder that the September CID Gallup Poll showed that 63 percent of Salvadorans identify death, crime and terrorism as the country's biggest news, but only 24 percent were personally victim of a crime in the last four months.

In a recent interview, Juan Carlos Sánchez of the Social Alliance for Governability and Justice also warned against the opposition's "clear intention of harming the functioning of the state apparatus for its own political interests." Sánchez cautioned that the mainstream media coverage in El Salvador "aligns with the same discourse of that of the economic sectors, which present a vision of a country that doesn't exist, given that they are presenting a country in which nothing is working, an ungovernable country, a failed state."

The onslaught has been such that, in July, the government went as far as to publically condemn a brewing coup d'état. The administration's Communications Secretary warned that anti-government forces were aiming for "the destabilization of a people's government, a legal government, a legitimate government, that fights every day for the interests of the population."

In the wake of July's transit shut-down, the International Democratic Federation of Women of El Salvador published a statement declaring: "It is no coincidence that selective and systematic homicides against the Salvadoran population are increasing: police, bus drivers, mass transit passengers. […] Nor does the media coverage seem coincidental to us that promotes a culture of violence and terror." The Federation called on the public "not to be surprised by this sort of destructive strategies that seek to subject us to a climate of terror in order to sell more weapons and private security services, while promoting an image of a country in which nothing works well."

As murder rates in El Salvador have remained at historic highs, peaking most recently with 911 violent deaths in the month of August, evidence has surfaced to suggest that ARENA's relationship to the violence may be more than opportunistic.

Toward the end of August, Medardo González, General Secretary of the FMLN, declared publically that "There is a relationship between political leaders in the ARENA party and gang leaders." That month, the bodyguard assigned to the head of the ARENA legislative group was arrested with several known gang members. Also in August, a wake was held in the ARENA party headquarters in the town of Apopa for a gang member who had murdered a police officer. In the meantime, the Attorney General confirmed investigations against the mayors of the towns Apopa and Ilopango, both from the ARENA party, for ties to gang structures, and municipal employees in Apopa and Zacatecoluca, also governed by ARENA, have been charged with conspiring with gangs. "These cases make it much clearer that the growth of violence in the country is tied to a campaign of terror directed at the poor," says Ramírez. "It's a new method, a new strategy of the economic power in this country to continue to terrorize the people."

For those familiar with ARENA's history, the emerging ties to gang structures may not come as a surprise. The party was founded by the father of the paramilitary death squads that terrorized the country throughout the civil war, a man named in the 1993 United Nations Truth Commission Report as the architect of martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero's assassination. In the postwar, many of the paramilitary groups, which had been deeply entrenched in the state security forces, transitioned into organized crime, a process well documented by reports such as that of the 1994 Joint Group for the Investigation of Illegal Armed Groups with Political Motivation in El Salvador. Indeed, the party's history is mired in scandals linking leading ARENA politicians to the drug trade. Nevertheless, the implication that the opposition could be ruthlessly enabling the carnage that has descended upon this small Central American country to score political points is, to say the least, chilling.

The Empire    

"As we were reminded last summer when thousands of unaccompanied children showed up on our southwestern border, the security and prosperity of Central America are inextricably linked with our own," wrote Vice President Joe Biden in the pages of the New York Times in January.

The government of El Salvador, resourced-strapped and under attack from gang leaders and a ruthless opposition, is being put to the test. The FMLN has made great strides in its efforts to rectify historic inequalities and exclusions through social programs, violence prevention, citizen participation and transparency initiatives. These gains, however, are at risk as a reckless destabilization campaign threatens the country's nascent democratic institutions.

"They don't care about the harm they are causing to the poorest population in this country, to national governability and to the recent democracy that we are building with so much sacrifice," warned Magdalena Cortéz of the Social Alliance for Governability and Justice in a recent press conference condemning the oligarchic elite for its destabilizing actions.

But the United States, for all its concern for "good governance" in the region, has also preferred to use the crisis to push its own agenda, rather than address the needs of the Salvadoran people.

Ever eager to spread the gospel of the free market, the US government throws small sums of USAID funding at neoliberal private sector run 'violence prevention' programs by partnering with local right-wing foundations and US corporations. The bulk of US security aid, however, goes to police and military equipment and training, aimed in large part to advance the militarization of the region against drug trafficking and irregular migration. These priorities are clearly reflected in the US-backed "Alliance for Prosperity in the Central American Northern Triangle," a new White House-backed strategy for the region modeled on Plan Colombia. In the meantime, El Salvador-led violence prevention initiatives, such as those put forward by the Citizens Security Council, are struggling for financing.

Ramírez assures me that US policy in El Salvador has only furthered instability: "US interventions have only served to guarantee drug trafficking, to guarantee arms trafficking. That's what the gringo interventions have achieved."

I ask her how the US could help the people of El Salvador. She answers without pause: "If they really want to do something for our people, the first thing they can do is withdraw the [military] bases they have here, that don't help us at all, they do nothing for us. That on the one hand, and on the other, the funds from any agreements that they sign with the government should be directed to violence prevention through social programs."

I ask her, finally, what she thinks the Salvadoran people must do. Her answer is just as quick: "As a people, we need to organize. Because in the poorest communities where organized crime is gaining ground, they have captured the minds of our young people, because there is no organization. If we don't work on that, we will never eradicate violence. That, and prevention programs. They have to go together."

News Mon, 30 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
From Rising Seas to Walruses, the Arctic's Endangerment Affects Us All

A ringed seal pup finds shelter on ice. Ringed seals, like many arctic mammals, depend on sea ice to survive - ice that is swiftly disappearing. (Photo: Ringed Seal via Shutterstock)A ringed seal pup finds shelter on ice. Ringed seals, like many Arctic mammals, depend on sea ice to survive - ice that is swiftly disappearing. (Photo: Ringed Seal via Shutterstock)

As climate disruption advances, life in the fragile Arctic ecosystem is being irrevocably changed. Endangered species are on the brink, and melting permafrost could eventually release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than humans have already emitted.

A ringed seal pup finds shelter on ice. Ringed seals, like many arctic mammals, depend on sea ice to survive - ice that is swiftly disappearing. (Photo: Ringed Seal via Shutterstock)A ringed seal pup finds shelter on ice. Ringed seals, like many Arctic mammals, depend on sea ice to survive - ice that is swiftly disappearing. (Photo: Ringed Seal via Shutterstock)

As world leaders meet at the COP21 climate conference in Paris, we would do well to turn our eyes northward. The impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) are nowhere as evident as they are in the Arctic, where temperatures are rising at least twice as fast as the average global temperature increase.

The most obvious ramification of this has taken the form of dramatically milder winters in the far north, coupled with temperature increases in the waters of the Arctic Ocean - both of which are dramatically increasing the melting of the sea ice, which is leaving more of the water's surface exposed, thus allowing more heat to reach the ocean during the summer. This process is likely the most well-known and most important feedback loop in ACD today - and because of it, land ice and permafrost in the Arctic are melting at a record pace.

Despite the remoteness of the Arctic, the region is deeply linked to the rest of the planet: Everything from our weather, to coastal flooding, to what we eat is tied to the Arctic and the events that are rapidly changing it.

To see more stories like this, visit "Planet or Profit?"

Since the cold waters of the Arctic absorb more carbon dioxide than the more temperate waters that fill most of the rest of the globe, the Arctic Ocean is far more sensitive to ocean acidification. Add to that the fact that declining summer sea ice is exposing even more of that ocean, which is allowing even more carbon dioxide from the air into the waters.

The Arctic Circle contains an area that is roughly 6 percent of the Earth's surface, yet the dramatic evidence of its impact on the rest of the planet is mounting. Some of that evidence is now taking the form of melting land ice that is generating sea level rise.

The pace of global sea level rise is increasing, largely due to what is happening in the Arctic, according to the recently released report Arctic Matters: The Global Connection to Changes in the Arctic, a report by The National Research Council of the National Academies.

According to the report, sea levels have risen about 20.3 cm (about eight inches) since 1901, but the pace of sea level rise is increasing. Plus, "Over the past two decades, sea level has risen globally at a rate of 3.1 mm (0.12 inches) per year on average. Between 2003 and 2008, melting Arctic glaciers, ice caps, and the Greenland Ice Sheet contributed 1.3 mm (0.05 inches) - more than 40 percent - of the total global sea level rise observed each year."

Additionally, for those of us living outside the Arctic Circle, it is easy to ignore the dramatic impacts ACD is having on creatures living in the Arctic.

A large number of these animals exist nowhere else on earth, and as the climate of the Arctic warms and changes, these species are in trouble. Many of them are facing the threat of extinction.

Loss of habitat and the drastic reduction of animals' hunting ranges due to receding sea ice now threaten polar bears, walruses and several species of seals, among other animals.

The landscape is changing dramatically as well, and the implications are dire not only for animals in the Arctic, but for all of us.

Endangered Species on the Brink

Dr. David Klein is a professor emeritus of wildlife management in the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. His research currently focuses on "changes taking place in the natural and human environments at high latitudes and their relation to global climate change."

Klein told Truthout that some of the impacts of rising temperatures on Arctic ecology include "lower biological productivity, through photosynthesis by phytoplankton, in the absence of sea ice when the sun is highest in spring and early summer." Phytoplankton is a critical component of the ocean food chain, so dwindling amounts of it in seas is an extremely concerning phenomenon.

This means that native peoples who live at the edge of the sea - who have traditionally hunted and fished on, through, or within the sea ice for marine mammals, arctic cod and crabs - are now less able to do so for lack of this kind of sea life.

Additionally, many native villages are being eroded by rising sea levels, melting permafrost and increased duration of rough seas, all of which are attributed to ACD.

Also, according to Klein, since productivity in Arctic marine waters at the ice edge is much higher than when ice is absent, ice-inhabiting seals cannot breed without multi-year ice.

"These ringed seals are primary prey of polar bears, plus polar bears need sea ice in order to hunt the seals," he said. "Walrus need broken sea ice upon which they have their young and where females nurse them. Walrus dive to the bottom to feed on benthic fauna so the ice from which the walrus dive for food must be over water shallow enough for the walrus to be able to dive to the bottom in order to feed."

Hence, the lack of consistent sea ice provokes a negative chain reaction for polar bears, seals and walrus.

Dr. Steven Vavrus at the Center for Climatic Research at the University of Wisconsin, serves on the Science Steering Committee for the Study of Environmental Arctic Change, an interagency program designed to improve understanding of the processes and consequences surrounding changes in the Arctic.

Vavrus told Truthout that the Arctic is seeing "large ecological changes already." Like Klein, Vavrus pointed out how the loss of sea ice is directly affecting the habitat of polar bears, walruses and seals.  

"There has also been a 'greening' of the Arctic, with longer periods of frost-free conditions," he said. "In addition, thawing permafrost has altered the landscape by creating lakes and wetlands in some places and draining existing water bodies in other places. These changes in surface water affect the ecology of the region."

These developments are impacting both marine and terrestrial life there, he said - including interactions between species. "Polar bears are being observed to spend more time on land now, in order to compensate for the shrinking ice pack, where they normally hunt," Vavrus noted. "This will likely lead to more conflicts between bears and humans in Arctic towns and villages."

Bad News for Plankton

How do these impacts on Arctic ecosystems stretch beyond the top of the world?

Dr. Jennifer Francis is a research professor at Rutgers University's Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences whose research is focused on the Arctic. She emphasizes that any significant alterations in the Arctic environment will be felt globally.

"Arctic sea ice plays a critical role in the Arctic climate system and marine ecosystem, and as we're learning, its disappearance is having broad effects well beyond the Arctic: from weather patterns to animal migrations to ocean current systems to food webs," she told Truthout. "Its loss will be felt directly and indirectly by billions of people."

For starters, the lost sea ice very directly impacts the base of the entire Arctic food chain: plankton.

As ice melts, more sunlight enters the ocean, which alters both the timing and species of plankton living there, she explained.

"Plankton are the base of the marine food web, so anything that affects them will affect the entire marine ecosystem," Francis said. "Arctic species are adapted to a narrow range and specific annual cycle of (very cold) temperatures, so the rapid warming occurring the Arctic will challenge many endemic species. Sub-Arctic species are expected to advance northward, some of which are already being observed."

She also explained that on land we are already seeing "substantial" impacts, since the active layer of the soil which thaws during the summer is thickening, which is allowing more shrubs to spread into tundra areas that once supported only low-growing plants.

"Changing vegetation affects the animals that eat it, and transition to shrubby growth also inhibits the movement of larger animals," Francis explained.

It's clear that ACD is having a dramatic impact on the region's terrestrial life. To make things worse, the Arctic is witnessing the melting of the better part of its land mass: permafrost.

Melting Permafrost

Given what is happening in the Arctic, the term "permafrost" is likely to lose its meaning in the future.

"Defined as soil, rock, and any other subsurface earth material that exists at or below freezing for two or more consecutive years, permafrost thaws when ground temperatures increase," Arctic Matters states. "Scientists have seen declines in permafrost over the past 30 years and predict that discontinuous permafrost will likely disappear across much of the Arctic, where ground temperatures are now within 1–2° C (1.8–3.6° F) of thawing."

Trapped within the ice and permafrost of the Arctic are massive amounts of carbon that is in the forms of frozen plant matter or trapped within methane ice crystals. Melting is already releasing large amounts of this into the atmosphere, as Truthout has previously reported: another feedback loop of ACD.

Dr. Kevin Schaefer is an Arctic Research Scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. He specializes in permafrost dynamics and the carbon cycle of permafrost.

"Eight-hundred gigatons of carbon is frozen into the permafrost, like plant and tree roots, and if it thaws it would double the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere," Schaefer told Truthout.

He added that while it could take hundreds of years for this to happen, it nevertheless comprises a feedback loop that amplifies warming that is already attributable to the burning of fossil fuels.

By the year 2100, Schaefer expects 120 gigatons of carbon will be added to the atmosphere by melting permafrost; an amount the National Snow and Ice Data Center estimates would increase global temperatures by 0.29C, which is an amount that is 7.8 percent of total planetary warming.

In other words, in the context of the politically agreed-upon goal of keeping global temperatures below a 2C increase, melting permafrost will add a little over 10 percent of that amount all by itself.

"We are seeing a particularly disturbingly high rate of warming in the permafrost," Schaefer explained. "We put thermometers 20 meters into the permafrost, and it's warming up a degree per decade which is a phenomenally fast rate for permafrost. It is disturbing to see this kind of rise, we're seeing a rapid increase in temperature, and it's driven entirely by climate change."

As the permafrost thaws there will be a massive impact on the infrastructure of the Arctic and the people who live there. Ice in the permafrost is as solid as concrete, but as it thaws and melts, any infrastructure built on it will collapse, having a huge economic impact on the region - and the global economy.

Schaefer is the co-author of a study entitled "Economic impacts of carbon dioxide and methane released from thawing permafrost" that was recently published in Nature Climate Change.

"We estimated the cost impact on the global economy due to thawing permafrost to be $43 trillion," Schaefer said.

This figure represents 13 percent of the total estimated economic impact of ACD, which is $300 trillion.

"We end our paper by saying this is just another factor that says we really need to address climate change now, and not wait," Schaefer said.

His point is underscored by a study published in Geophysical Research Letters in April 2015, which showed that decaying permafrost is causing a "runaway effect," in terms of methane and stored carbon being released into the atmosphere.

Another study published in the same journal later that same month said that carbon was already entering the atmosphere "at breakneck speed."

Thus, as world leaders meet to engage in a political process around how to mitigate ACD impacts and negotiate terms around carbon dioxide emissions, the Arctic is already changing before our very eyes.

News Mon, 30 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Western State Regulators Struggling to Keep Up With Radioactive Fracking and Drilling Waste

The question of how to handle the toxic waste from fracking and other oil and gas activities is one of the most intractable issues confronting environmental regulators. A new report details a string of illegal dumping incidents.

Fracking fluid and other drilling wastes sit in an unlined pit in North Belridge, California, July 11, 2014. (Photo: Faces of Fracking)Fracking fluid and other drilling wastes sit in an unlined pit in North Belridge, California, July 11, 2014. (Photo: Faces of Fracking)

The question of how to handle the toxic waste from fracking and other oil and gas activities is one of the most intractable issues confronting environmental regulators. Not only because of the sheer volume of waste generated nationwide, but also because some of the radioactive materials involved have a half-life of over 1,500 years, making the consequences of decision-making today especially long-lasting.

Every year, the oil and gas industry generates roughly 21 billion barrels of wastewater and millions of tons of solid waste, much of it carrying a mix of naturally occurring radioactive materials, and some of it bearing so much radioactive material that it is not safe to drink or even, on far more rare occasions, to simply have it near you.

But unlike most other industries, since 1988, the oil and gas industry has benefitted from an exception to national hazardous waste handling laws, which punts control of this radioactive waste from the federal government down to each individual state - no matter how dangerous the waste might be.

Over the past decade, states have often proved ill-prepared to handle the flood of waste from the shale drilling rush, sometimes because drillers struck oil or gas in a region with little prior experience with drilling's unique hazards, and other times because the political sway of a wealthy and well-connected industry or a lack of resources for environmental regulation left state rules vague or poorly enforced, environmentalists say.

Both types of problems are highlighted in a new report, published Nov. 19 by the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), that examines how radioactive wastes are handled under various state laws.

"[S]tate regulatory frameworks remain sparse, where they exist at all," the report, titled No Time To Waste, concluded, after a review of rules governing radioactive waste from oil and gas operations in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Some of those states, like Wyoming and North Dakota, have long-established histories of intensive oil exploration, while others, like Montana and Idaho have far less drilling activity but nonetheless have found themselves grappling in recent years with radioactive waste from neighboring states and as far away as Pennsylvania.

The report details a string of illegal dumping incidents, including the dumping of thousands of pounds of filter socks, used to filter wastewater, on a truck bed in Watford City in Feb. 2014; a 2013 incident where roughly 1,000 filter socks were illegally snuck into a municipal landfill; and the discovery in March, 2014 of over 200 trash bags stuffed with radioactive waste at an abandoned gas station in Noonan, ND, which made national headlines.

That year, an Associated Press investigation uncovered over 150 attempts to dump radioactive waste at landfills not qualified to accept it - and that state regulators failed to fine or sanction anyone over the attempted illicit dumping.

And that's in North Dakota, which is the only state with a "relatively comprehensive" approach to regulating the drilling rush's radioactive materials, the WORC report concluded.

"Oil and gas companies essentially handle and dispose of radioactive waste at their own discretion," said Bob LeResche, WORC Chair from Clearmont, Wyoming. "Some have resorted to the cheapest option, illegally dumping it."

Concerns about corner cutting through illegal waste disposal have grown as oil prices have plunged over the past year.

And while, in theory, lower prices should lead to less drilling, some operators are trying different tactics to deal with the price slump, including continuing to drill wells but waiting to perform the final steps, including fracking, in the hopes of locking in low rig prices and then starting production when prices recover. In North Dakota, for example, over 1,000 oil wells had been drilled but not yet fracked as of September, compared to 13,000 wells producing oil and gas in the state.

Scientists warn that if this radioactive waste is dumped in regular landfills, water running off from the landfills after rainstorms could carry radioactive materials into rivers, streams and drinking water supplies, in part because companies treating wastewater collected from landfills may not know that radioactive materials are present.

Across the U.S., cuttings are finding their ways into these local landfills. "In just the past two years, over 500,000 tons of drill cuttings and shale gas waste products have been buried in the municipal waste landfill in our county," Bill Hughes, Chairman of the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority, said earlier this year.

In 1988, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a regulatory determination that, even though the waste from oil and gas exploration and production was toxic, there was no need for the nation's hazardous waste handling laws, under the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act's Subpart C, to apply.

But that notion has increasingly come under fire, not only in Western states, but also in the Northeast.

In August, a coaliton of environmental groups announced their intention to sue the EPA to force it to issue regulations for the industry's toxic and radioactive waste.

"Thirty years ago the Environmental Protection Agency exempted oil and gas waste from federal classification as hazardous, not because the waste isn't hazardous, but because EPA determined state oversight was adequate," Earthworks' Eastern Program Coordinator Nadia Steinzor, said in a statement when a study detailing the failures to control this waste in the Northeast's Marcellus shale was released earlier this year. "But our analysis shows that states aren't keeping track of this waste or disposing of it properly."

Similarly, Western states have struggled to keep up with radioactive waste from drilling. "Though North Dakota has occupied much of the spotlight on this issue, other states have begun to see a rising tide of radioactive waste, as well," the WORC report concluded.

"Among New Western states, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana lack formal regulations, and only Montana has begun to address radioactive oil and gas waste. Idaho has several regulations in place, but no statewide disposal limit. Further east, South Dakota has a radioactivity limit for solid waste disposal, but after that regulations run out," WORC wrote.

The report criticized the way that Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) calculates whether the industry's waste is dangerous enough to require regulation. "Contrary to the DEQ's conclusion, then, Wyoming's TENORM waste products may actually have radioactivity concentrations that are on par with - or even higher than - those of neighboring states, because those wastes are emerging from soils that have higher concentrations already," the researchers reported.

In Idaho, despite the relatively small presence of the drilling industry, radioactivity is a concern because it's home to one of the nation's largest commercial disposal sites for radioactive waste, including fracking waste. "The facility's limit for radioactivity concentration is 1,500 picocuries per gram of radium - more than 30 times the limit deemed safe by Argonne's North Dakota study," WORC wrote. "This limit dwarfs the levels accepted in nearby states. As a result, Idaho receives wastes from all over the country, sometimes from as far away as the Pennsylvania shale fields."

Montana, which similarly has relatively little fracking, has been inundated with waste from neighboring North Dakota's Bakken shale.

"Montana has a radioactivity limit of 30 picocuries per gram, meaning that it can accommodate many of the oilfield wastes that exceed North Dakota's limit of 5 picocuries per gram; as a result, North Dakota generators and waste transporters have quickly flocked to this new facility," WORC wrote.

North Dakota is in the process of updating its rules for radioactive waste, but while many of the rules under consideration are tougher than existing state laws, the state plans to raise its maximum limits to above Montana's cap, making it 10 times less strict than before the update.

"Without thorough, rigorous, and consistent oversight from the state, especially in the face of a higher radioactivity limit," Larry Heilmann, a retired biochemist from Fargo, N.D., said in a WORC statement on the report, "it is doubtful that the new rules will result in improvements on the ground."

News Sun, 29 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Another Victim in ICE's Ongoing War
Monday morning, I hear banging, banging, banging on the door... I just opened the door because I'm thinking it's my neighbor from downstairs, because I hold her key for her... I see like five officers, official-looking with the vest and hats, and they say, "We're Homeland Security. We're doing an investigation." And I'm, like, in my underwear.
He pulls out a piece of paper and says, "Can you tell me if you've seen this guy?" And I'm still half asleep, thinking, "Wow, Homeland Security, this guy must be dangerous."

This is Alisha, a student at John Jay College, resident of the Bronx and activist with the Social Justice Project, talking to Socialist Worker about an event this summer that changed her life. The officers at her door weren't investigating terrorism, but were part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of Homeland Security, and they were looking for her partner Franz, who was sleeping in her living room that Monday morning in August.

As Alisha knew, Franz was far from dangerous. In fact, his only "crimes"- besides not having legal documentation - were the results of homelessness and racial profiling.

To hear the Republicans running for president tell it, Democrats have unleashed an epidemic of lawlessness - particularly for people of color. They complain about Barack Obama's claims that his administration is only focusing on deporting undocumented immigrants who are dangerous criminals, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's vow to end the police tactic of widespread stop-and-frisks.

But Alisha and Franz have a different story to tell. Despite legislation signed by de Blasio last year promising to limit the city's cooperation with ICE except for "those who have been convicted of violent or serious felonies," New Yorkers continue to find themselves in NYPD custody thanks to aggressive "Broken Windows" policing - in Franz's case, a dubious bust for skipping a subway fare - and then in the crosshairs of ICE.


Alisha and Franz met this past February. Franz, who had emigrated from Haiti in 1998, retained a thick accent. "I always joke and say that this relationship is working because I have no idea what he is saying," Alisha says. "But I love him."

When Alisha met him, Franz was coming out of homelessness, and - with the support of his cousin and Alisha - things were looking up. He was beginning to overcome his depression and get involved in the Osborne Association, a well-regarded organization whose mission is to offer opportunities for people who have been through the criminal justice system.

Franz hoped to get his GED and improve his English so he could go to college and eventually become a social worker to help those who were in a similar position to him. But those plans started to get derailed after an incident with the police earlier this summer, as Alisha describes:

Franz went out to get some fish for me, because he knows I love fish. The fish store was a few stops away from the house, so I loaned him my monthly Metrocard [to take the subway]. Next thing you know, I'm getting a call:

"Baby, they've arrested me. They said that I didn't swipe [the card]."

"Tell them that you have a monthly metro card," I said.

"I'm trying to tell them, but they won't listen."

"Give me the officer. Maybe they don't understand you."

I said to the officer, "He has a monthly Metro - it's my card. Why would he not swipe?"

This is the thing with NYPD. I call it the new profile tactic. They hide on the subway platform, trying to catch people coming through. Where I live, no one is going to the Hamptons. We don't have money, none of us - we're broke. So if we're going through the turnstile, we are going to school, to appointments, going to handle our business. What the NYPD is doing is using that tactic for whoever is swiping to get their names.

At the police station, the officer told Alisha he saw Franz go through an unlocked gate instead of the turnstile. Franz acknowledged that he went through the gate instead of waiting at the turnstile because a train was coming, but insisted that he had swiped his card.

When Alisha asked the officer why he didn't just check the Metrocard to see if it had been swiped, he replied, "You know, I would just have let him go, but I had my supervisor right behind me."

Once police ran Franz's name through the system, they found he had two open warrants for unpaid fines in 2008 and 2010.

"He totally forgot he had [the unpaid fines] way back when," Alisha says. "And with his situation of being homeless, he didn't have the money to pay in the first place.


Franz was arrested, processed and let go the next day. The following week, we went to court, where his first warrant was dropped, and he was told that his second one would be handled soon. But now that Franz's name was in the system, ICE had other plans. A couple of weeks later came the home raid. Alisha described what happened after she opened the door:

Franz got up from the couch, and he was walking towards us because he could hear his name. They were talking in the hall, so I looked over to Franz, but I stepped back...and they started coming in. I'm [still] thinking it's a case of mistaken identity.

And so they come in and they say, "Are you Franz? Can you give us some ID?" He shows his passport. I could tell he was already nervous. "We have a warrant for your arrest."

I said, "What are you talking about? A warrant for what?" when the officer started to come around, I put my arm up: "'Uh, uh, what's going on, hold up!"

Than another officer that I didn't see out in the hall came around and said, "Ma'am, whatever questions you have, don't worry, I will answer them for you."

I turn to the guy who says that he can answer all my questions and ask him, "Can you tell me what this is about?"

"Ma'am, you can come down to 201 Varick Street, and they will answer all your questions."

I asked him, "Can I have your name?"

"I'm not required to give you my name."

"Can I have your badge number?"

"We are not required to give you a badge number."

At this point, I say, "Is this America? Can I get a picture of the picture that you just showed me?" Then he laughed and said, "Absolutely not!" As if that was the silliest question he had ever heard.

He leaves out the door, and Franz is already being taking down the stairs. "Baby, make sure you come down."

I'm standing at the door, saying to myself, what the fuck just happened, what's going on? I go to my laptop, and before you know it, there are 20 tabs open. I don't know what to do. I don't know who to call. Do I call the police? Oh my God, no! I was so shocked. I had to go to sleep, this is just a dream.

I reached out to the ICE FREE NYC, and they referred me to Families for Freedom. When I spoke to Abraham, it made everything okay. If I didn't have that person at the other end, that could have ruined me. He just knew everything and predicted all the steps that Franz was going to go through.


Families for Freedom (FFF) is an advocacy and organizing group that describes itself as "by and for families facing and fighting deportation" and seeking to "repeal the laws that are tearing apart our homes and neighborhoods; and to build the power of immigrant communities as communities of color, to provide a guiding voice in the growing movement for immigrant rights as human rights."

Executive Director Abraham Paulos, who has been through immigrant detention himself, said in an interview that FFF was part of the effort to get ICE removed from city jails, but that since the bill's passage last year, he has seen more calls like Alisha's.

"ICE was kicked out of jail, but there was an increase in home raids," Paulos says. Before, he says, most calls were about loved ones in jail, but now "we're getting the same amount of phone calls, but home raid phone calls are the major phone calls. How do they know to come to his [Franz's] partner's house? It's hard to believe that [the information] is not been coming from the NYPD."

According to Paulos, this is part of a national trend under the Obama administration's Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), in which the president vowed to target "felons not families" - as if the two categories have nothing to do with each other.

Franz is now in the Essex Detention Center, in Newark, New Jersey. "There is no [right to] speedy trial," Alisha says. "He's been in there since August."

She believes detentions of people like Franz are motivated by a Congressional-mandated "bed quota" that obligates ICE to pay for a minimum number of immigrant detainees. "They need to have those beds filled... 'We know that you're not a threat, but we need to keep our money,'" Alisha says. "I'm living in a dream. The process is insane and dehumanizing as well. [For] the visits in the wintertime, they make you stand outside in a line for two hours, [including] little kids."

Alisha thinks de Blasio "comes from a good heart but represents a system that is corrupt as fuck."

The system itself is not about supporting those who want to bring what's best for society. So you have this one person in this corrupt system who's trying to do something right, he need a backup. That army has to come from the people. That's how changes are made in society.

It just becomes a scenario where society has to put the pressure on it, so we'll have to hold those politicians to their word. Hold Obama to his words. Hold de Blasio to his words. It's about us being organized and coming together as activists and making noise to be heard.

Like Paulos, Alisha thinks part of the problem is the way immigration has become associated with criminality.

I reposted a video that I saw on Facebook, about a little boy [whose] father was detained and was going to get deported. Somebody posted, "What [crime] did his father do?" automatically.

So for us to have this conversation in the community, the first thing is, "well, they are criminals, what did they do?... Well, no, you don't have my support". So it works for the system. It automatically signs the person off to not be worthy of support, to fight for, to raise my voice.

People first. We see that incarceration is a problem. Homelessness is a problem. It can be fixed when you separate the person from the situation and deconstruct the whole narrative. It is a hard job but I know it can be done.

Danny Katch contributed to this article.
News Sun, 29 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
When Surgeons Multitask: The Little-Known Practice of Concurrent Surgeries

(Photo: Operating Room via Shutterstock)"Concurrent surgery" is an open secret in hospitals, but patients rarely hear about it. (Photo: Operating Room via Shutterstock)

When you go to the hospital for an operation, did you know your surgeon might also be performing a procedure on another patient, in a different operating room, over the same scheduled time period? This practice - "two patients, two operating rooms, moving back and forth from one to the other" while relying on assistance from general surgeons or trainees - is called concurrent surgery. It's an open secret in hospitals, but patients rarely hear about it.

The Boston Globe recently investigated concurrent surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), as well as the broader conflict in the medical community over the ethics and safety of double-booking operations. On this week's podcast, two of the Globe reporters who investigated the story, Jenn Abelson and Liz Kowalczyk, talk with ProPublica reporter Marshall Allen about how they got tipped off to this issue, clashing opinions in the medical community, and what they think patients should have a right to know.

Highlights from their conversation:

Hospitals that allow concurrent surgery argue that it saves time.
Abelson: The No. 1 reason that's given by hospitals is around efficiency and access to care, so that there's no wasted time in the operating room.... It not only allows more cases in one day, but the hospitals also said, for some of these star surgeons who might have long wait lists, you can get greater access to them because they are doing more surgeries.

But some doctors question its ethics.
Abelson: [Dr. Dennis Burke, who fought a multiyear battle against double-booking at MGH] had two major concerns. One is that there were concerns and complaints raised to him by anesthesiologists over the issues of what they considered were patient safety, and concerns around whether patients were getting the best medical care possible. And then the separate issue of patient consent - that this practice was just known by the doctors and the nurses and the anesthesiologists and the billing clerks and everyone else. The only one who didn't know about it was the patient.

It's hard to tell how common it is because there's scant data and hospitals aren't talking.
Abelson: The whole industry is reluctant to talk about it. We have had a hard time placing … how MGH practice and policy compares to other hospitals. … We approached a number of hospitals and tried to figure out the policies and practices, and most have not been willing to share with us or speak in detail about it.

Listen to this podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher. For more, read the Boston Globe investigation Clash in the Name of Care and ProPublica's Making the Cut: Why Choosing the Right Surgeon Matters Even More Than You Know.

News Sun, 29 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500